Orange County

Shopped at Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Thrift Shop lately? Here’s where the money’s going

PTA Thrift Shop new endeavor important for organization’s sustainability

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.
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PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTAs might have to rely on their own fundraising and fees for a few more years until the PTA Thrift Shop pays off its multimillion-dollar mortgage.

The timing depends on how much the thrift shop earns from selling second-hand goods and leasing space to its YouthWorx on Main tenants. PTA Thrift Shop officials haven’t said when the local PTAs could start receiving money again.

The nonprofit’s sales have raised money for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools since 1952. A few years ago, its leaders devised a plan to generate more income by building the YouthWorx rental space beside the Carrboro store.

Barbara Jessie-Black PTA Thrift Shops

The original plan was to charge market-rate rent to a restaurant or other business, executive director Barbara Jessie-Black said.

But YouthWorx can still earn money for local PTAs, while helping youth-focused nonprofits and using that collective impact to compete for bigger grants.

The goal is to sustain YouthWorx with grants and funnel its revenues into the thrift shop’s operations, including the mortgage, she said. How much income could be generated won’t be fully known until next year.

Loan refinanced

Records show the PTA Thrift Shop – which has stores in Chapel Hill and Carrboro – took out a $4 million loan in 2012 to rebuild the Carrboro store and expand the parking lot. The loan was refinanced at a lower rate in February 2016, and the amount was increased to $4.5 million to pay for the YouthWorx on Main building project.

The thrift shop still owed $3.85 million as of June 30, 2016, according to the most recent tax documents. An additional $250,000 loan was taken out in June 2017 to cover unexpected costs and a seven-month delay for the YouthWorx project. Thrift Shop officials have not disclosed the term of the mortgage or said when they expect to pay off the debt.

The building, which opened this summer, houses nearly a dozen nonprofits, including the SKJAJA Fund, Triangle BikeWorks and Art Therapy Institute. Leases run $200 to $400 a month, and YouthWorx memberships offer a menu of benefits for up to $1,800 a year.

“The fact that we chose a collaborative program to be housed here is because we wanted to stay on mission, meaning it’s organizations that support the youth that are part of the school system,” Jessie-Black said. “There’s a nice connection to the schools and the PTAs.”

Tough years

The PTA Thrift Shop is recovering from several tough years, including lost sales while its stores were closed, Jessie-Black said.

Tax returns show the thrift shop posted a loss – $32,000 – in 2015-16, despite bringing in $1.74 million in sales, grants and investment income. Expenses totaled $1.77 million, including $949,800 for salaries, benefits and payroll taxes.

The thrift shop has paid its roughly 40 employees a living wage since 2000, Jessie-Black said, and also pays 85 percent of their health insurance costs. That living wage is now $10.96 an hour, according to the thrift shop website.

Federal law gives the nonprofit until Nov. 15 to make its 2016-17 tax documents public.

The long period without much funding has worried PTA officials and parents who relied on the thrift shop to help meet critical student and teacher needs. Some suggested in recent months that the thrift shop should stop using the PTA name if its mission has changed.

They didn’t expect the cuts to last this long when thrift shop officials warned them that their allocations – about $265,000 a year in 2011 – would be cut while the thrift shop was paying for its building campaign, members said.

The thrift shop has paid PTAs a total of $119,000 since 2012 and added Project Impact grants in 2014, providing another $39,000 to individual schools. While Project Impact helps, PTA leaders said, many parents don’t have the time or expertise to write a grant proposal.

“It needs to be the old system, where we had some sort of guaranteed allotment from the PTA Thrift Shop to each school,” said PTA member Laura Philpot, who noted she and others supported the thrift shop’s campaign individually and collectively with PTA money.

Better communication

The thrift shop could have done a better job at communicating, but the community jumped to a lot of conclusions, Jessie-Black said. The thrift shop addressed some of the recent questions on its website in September.

“I think part of the challenge has been our effort to communicate appropriately what we’re doing,” she said. “Of course, PTAs change every year, the membership changes, and so the message is not necessarily consistent.”

PTA Council President Lisa Kaylie said they’ve gotten some information since contacting the PTA Thrift Shop Board of Directors in August. The groups met Oct. 4 and talked, among other things, about a long-vacant board seat for a non-voting PTA representative, she said. The PTA Council could bring that to its members next month.

“The few main concerns we have continue to be governance,” Kaylie said. “We have no real voice on their board or oversight, so that’s one main issue. The second main issue is the percentage of revenue that is going to the PTAs, and those are the two things that we’re trying to get more understanding of the budget and also really the plan going forward.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb