Not even 10 a.m. and there is a long lineup of people waiting to get into the Princess Street Goodwill store for Dollar Daze. The throngs of early morning bargain hunters are going for the $1 clothing and shoes so I get lucky with half price housewares.
Business is up at the Goodwill but February wasn’t a good month. Doug McKechnie, President and CEO for going on 35 years now, says sales for the five Winnipeg stores dropped by 25 percent with pickups being the most affected.
“I had bill collectors calling me from Eastern Canada, one fellow from Brampton wanted to know when I was going to pay the $1800 he was owed,” says McKechnie.
What does this have to do with the Goodwill Stores here in Winnipeg? Not a lot as it turns out. Winnipeg boasts the only independent Goodwill organization in the country.
Proudly called the Canadian Goodwill Industries Inc., they never did join Goodwill Industries International as it would have cost them one percent of their gross sales each month. Good thing as it turns out.
The 16 stores and 10 donation centres that recently failed in Ontario were members of this Goodwill juggernaut. Stores in 17 countries and $5.37 billion (2014) in gross revenue, including sales from their affiliated thrift shops. Hence the confusion.
Hence the need for the thoughtful notice posted recently on the door of the Princess Street store sympathizing with the stores of Southern Ontario that closed on Jan. 16 but reassuring Manitoba bargain seekers the stores here are still open for business.
Unlike Ontario, staff here are non-union but paid fairly, receiving health benefits and cost of living allowances annually.
CEO McKechnie receives a modest salary, less than half the $238,000 Keiko Nakamura CEO of the Southern Ontario stores made. With no government funding, Winnipeg Goodwill stores rely on your donations and good old Manitoban common sense. It’s “junk into jobs, waste into wages and discards into timecards” as their saying goes.
Whether it’s your old but good couch being recovered in the upholstery shop, a broken TV being fixed in electronics or a chair being repaired in the carpentry shop; all are painstakingly refurbished whenever possible, providing job experience and training opportunities for those working in the shops, not all of whom are physically disabled. Some are, but crippling anxiety can be a barrier to getting a job too. Many things can cause one’s life to veer off in the wrong direction.
“Being able to give a paycheque every two weeks to some of my people who never thought they’d be able to work is the most rewarding part of my job” McKechnie says.
They work for him for a while and then they move on to other jobs as skilled employees. Some will never move on. Others stay, as they’re comfortable. McKechnie does whatever it takes to increase their quality of life.
“I have one guy, I’ve put him through rehab five times. They’re like my second family,” says McKechnie.
Lorraine Wilson has been a cashier in the flagship Princess street thrift shop for eight years now. She’s only ever worked in thrift stores, that’s her thing.
When pressed, she says the best part of her job is the customers. No wonder, seeing the bargains they walk out with. Who else sells all their paperbacks for 50 cents these days?
Being right downtown, lunchtime gets busy. That’s a good thing. Sales of donated items at the Princess Street store and at the four other thrift stores in Winnipeg and the one in Ashern, fund the workshops, provide training as well as pay the wages of all 90 full and part-time employees.
The Goodwill celebrated its 85th birthday on Apr. 4, 2016. The very first Goodwill store in Canada opened in Winnipeg on Apr. 4, 1931. Reverend Richmond Craig, a United Church minister, wanted to provide jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression and sell household goods to Manitobans at a cheap price.
I can’t help but think he would’ve been happy to see the long lineup for Dollar Daze recently and that he would’ve approved of the deals.
As a homegrown Manitoban charity with 89 percent of money raised from donations going directly into hiring, supporting and training workers no matter what obstacles they’ve faced in their life, the Goodwill Stores deserve our thanks and support.