For almost seven decades, The Junior League of Atlanta Inc. (JLA) has operated a thrift shop as one of its most reliable fundraisers. Citing multiple factors, including “increased competition, an ongoing decrease in revenue and the need to meet the evolving needs of our volunteers,” JLA announced it will close the Nearly New Shop, its longest-running fundraiser, on April 30.
First opened in 1949, Nearly New has been at several locations, the last of which is Toco Hills Shopping Center on North Druid Hills Road.
“It was a dependable money maker for us for a lot of years, but a number of things have changed in recent years, making it no longer a sustainable business model,” said JLA president Deanna Anderson.
“Until the 1980s most of our members did not work outside the home,” Anderson explained. “We had lots of volunteers who were available during the day. At that time, we ran Nearly New as an all-volunteer operation. We now have four full-time and two part-time employees on our sales floor, which, of course, increases the cost of doing business. We still have volunteers involved, particularly in marketing and other off-site aspects of the operation, but running a bricks-and-mortar store is still expensive.
Revenues were going down as the cost of operating the store went up. Closing the shop just makes sense.”
For decades, a large portion of JLA funds was generated by selling gently used merchandise, including clothing, accessories, furniture and other household items. Anderson said that over the years, Nearly New has raised millions of dollars that supported JLA’s charitable programs and activities in Atlanta.
She said growing competition in the consignment shop industry—including many online options—meant maintaining a retail storefront is no longer an effective avenue for fundraising. There are a good many second-hand stores, both commercial and nonprofit, in the Atlanta area, particularly in DeKalb County, but Anderson said the situation isn’t just a local one.
“We’re not alone in reevaluating our fundraising,” said the league president, who explained that Junior League chapters across the country are moving away from such labor-intensive initiatives as thrift shops and rummage sales to refocus on such core competencies as leadership training and community outreach.
“Frankly, for most of us, operating a retail store is not a strong part of our skill set. We feel our efforts are better focused on fundraising programs members can become personally involved in without taking large amounts of time from their careers and home life.” She offered as an example the Little Black Dress Initiative, which last year raised more than $79,600.
“It was started by the Junior League of London to raise awareness of the impact of generational poverty,” Anderson explained. Participants wear the same black dress (or outfit) for five consecutive days along with a pin that reads “Ask Me About My Dress,” generating conversation among colleagues, friends and strangers.
“By focusing our fundraising efforts on impactful programs and leadership initiatives, we can serve our community better,” she said.
Calling the closing of Nearly New a bittersweet event, Anderson said JLA is celebrating the impact the store has had on the organization and the community. “Shoppers from all over the metro Atlanta area knew us as a place to find clean, quality gently used items. We not only raised funds for our programs but we provided people a place to acquire goods while staying within their budgets. Anyone who shopped, or donated goods and volunteer hours has helped to make the store a success,” she commented, adding “the closing of Nearly New opens a new chapter of fundraising opportunities for us and our vibrant, creative group of volunteers.”
On April 8, JLA will celebrate the store’s legacy with a farewell sendoff and reception for customers. Noon through 3 p.m. the store will offer patrons food, drinks, a photo booth and drawings for gift cards and other prizes. After the closing, Anderson said, remaining merchandise will be offered to partner organizations and other nonprofits.
The Junior League is a women’s volunteer organization founded 1901. The organization’s programs address an array of issues “for the purpose of enhancing the social, cultural and political fabric of our civil society,” according to the organization’s website, which states that Junior League has built programs leading to “free school lunches, literacy programs, children’s theaters and museums, clean water, children’s nutrition, and greater awareness about the vices of modern society, such as domestic violence and alcohol abuse.” The Atlanta chapter is ending its centennial year.
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