The COVID-19 pandemic hit Napa’s thrift stores almost like a knock-out punch.
First, in March, shops including Community Projects, the Discovery Shop and Goodwill were unexpectedly forced to close.
Retail stores began reopening in June, but the trouble wasn’t over because thrift stores including Community Projects and the Discovery Shop depend heavily on retiree volunteers, many of whom are still sheltering in place.
The absence of volunteers left those shops scrambling to keep up with the workload the volunteers usually carry.
“We have to be very careful,” said Diana Gerig, president of Community Projects. “Our volunteers are a group of older women. Many of them have husbands at home with health issues,” or they have their own health issues to be concerned about, she said.
Gerig said about 20 people a day would normally volunteer at Community Projects. She’s not sure how many volunteers to expect once the store reopens. “Many people are waiting for the vaccine.”
On top of all of that, Napans who have been stuck at home are cleaning out their closets and attics like mad, meaning the thrift stores are awash in donations — when the shops are able to accept and quarantine them.
“We have been bombarded with donations,” said Kym MacDonald, assistant manager at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop at 1380 Trancas St. “We are very shorthanded but we are handling it.”
The Discovery Shop was able to reopen in June, said MacDonald. The store’s safety plan for shoppers includes a hand sanitizer station, clear panels at the register and containers for clean and used pens.
“We only allow about 10 people in the shop,” at a time, said MacDonald. “We’re strict about that, and about using masks.”
“We’re here to keep everybody safe,” she said. Yes, some complain about wearing masks, “But most of the people have been very kind and understanding,” said MacDonald.
Customers can try on clothes at the Discovery Shop but afterwards those clothing items are quarantined for 48 hours. Donations are now by appointment only. Those items are also then quarantined for 48 hours.
Store hours have been cut back as well. The Discovery Shop is now open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It used to be open daily, “But we don’t have enough volunteers to be able to do that,” said MacDonald.
Community Projects at 715 Franklin St. in downtown Napa isn’t able to reopen just yet, but they are getting close, said Gerig.
In the early days of the pandemic, the store lost two paid staff members who decided working with the public was not what they wanted to do now, she said. The nonprofit then had to replace those workers.
Gerig said the store was tentatively planning a limited reopening on Aug. 4, offering some shopping in the parking lot.
When the store fully reopens, shoppers will enter the store at the back door, inside the parking lot. Masks will be required. Hand sanitizer will be dispensed. A staffer will count visitors for entrance.
“We’re only letting in 15 people at a time, and well see how that works initially,” said Gerig. Shoppers will have to follow directional lines on the floor. The cashier stations have been outfitted with clear panels. Then, shoppers will exit through the front door only.
The store will remain open its normal days, Tuesday to Saturday, but only from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
For a few weeks, Community Projects had been able to receive donations, but their storage is currently “full to the rafters” and donations have been temporarily halted.
She’s most appreciative of the number of donations the nonprofit is receiving. “We just have a lot of stuff to sell, I can tell you that. We’ve got a full shop.”
Community Projects has become known for granting more than $500,000 to the local groups each year. Gerig said it’s too soon to know how COVID-19 will impact such grants.
“We will still try and fund as much as we can,” she said.
Napa’s Goodwill store has also reopened. The store faced its own staffing problems earlier this year.
“The store was closed quite unexpectedly as a result of personnel matters,” President and CEO Goodwill Redwood Empire Brandy Evans said at the time.
The low unemployment rate in early 2020 lead to a hiring crisis, said Regine Dunn, director of retail at Goodwill Redwood Empire.
The Goodwill store, located in the River Park Shopping Center at 1683 W. Imola Ave., is currently open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., said Dunn.
The store is accepting donations, except for furniture or large appliances, said a staff member on Tuesday.
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com