Winter Garden residents will soon notice an empty storefront in the Winter Garden Regional Shopping Center presently occupied by the New Beginnings of Central Florida thrift store.
New Beginnings executive director Stephanie Harris announced the store, located at 14041 West Colonial Drive, will close by the end of March.
New Beginnings is a nonprofit organization that hosts multiple programs that provide housing, food, clothing, professional counseling and job opportunities to people in need in order to help them get their life in order. The Clermont-based nonprofit operates three thrift stores to help fund its programs, but it plans to close its Winter Garden location due to an inability to pay the recently increased costs for the leased space, Harris said.
“Basically, the management company notified us they would have an increase in CAM (Common Area Maintenance) fees starting in January,” Harris said. “We've had a pretty good rapport with the leasing management company of the property, so I appreciate they kept an open dialogue with us and made us aware of that. ... But the cost in rental space in the community and, really, the entire Central Florida area has definitely been on the rise. So it doesn't really come as a surprise, but we're just not able to handle a large increase in the overhead costs of our retail operation.”
The organization is currently searching for other retail spaces in either Winter Garden, Ocoee or Windermere. Its board members hope to find a retail space around 2,900 square feet with at a cost of no more than $5,000 a month, Harris added.
New Beginnings is also brainstorming the possibility of opening a boutique instead of another thrift store, Harris shared.
"Our retail operations are the primary source of our income for the ministry, so we just can't afford it," Harris said. "The increase would make our overhead costs an additional $1,000 a month, and that's just way too much. So we decided to look for a smaller space and try to operate a more efficient retail operation and maybe even change the concept from the standard thrift store concept and instead open a boutique. It would be a New Beginnings Boutique that would focus more on newer items. We do get brand-new items donated to our store."
The thrift store is currently selling everything 50% off, and any leftover merchandise after its March 27 closing will be transported to its other two stores in Clermont and Kissimmee, Harris added. The volunteers and employees at the Winter Garden location also have been offered the opportunity to be transferred.
The organization will continue to work with the West Orange Neighborhood Center, as well as local business and church partners to provide social services to the community, Harris emphasized.
"West Orange has been very generous and supportive, and we're happy to still be there to help serve that community,” she said. “And we know it's going to work out one way or the other. We're still going to be present in the community, we just hope we can find a way to keep our retail operations open."