PWACU to Open Thrift Store

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In Salt Lake City there is an “absolutely fabulous” building with a large store front, a loading area and a big parking lot. And Toni Johnson is so excited about it that she needs a few minutes to collect her thoughts. 

“It’s going to open up so many new possibilities for our organization,” said Johnson, the executive director of the People with AIDS Coalition of Utah. “It’s got enough space that I can move our offices into it.”

Johnson is talking about the future location of Our Store: A Thrift Alternative, a thrift store PWACU plans on opening in October to help fund more programs for people with HIV/AIDS and to help make the organization self-sufficient (PWACU currently survives mostly on private donations). Run mostly by volunteers, the thrift store will sell clothing, furniture, books, house wares, small appliances and articles made by volunteers, such as jewelry and magnets. The store will also offer need-based vouchers for a specific amount of money to people with HIV/AIDS.

The rainbow-colored ‘alternative’ in the name, said Johnson, is both a subtle jab at Mormon-owned thrift giant Deseret Industries and an indicator that the store is run for the benefit of Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population.

“It’ll be a nicer atmosphere than the DI, classier,” she said. “The LGBT community wants a thrift store that matches their ideology and helps the community. There’ll be a strong and ongoing incentive for the LGBT family to donate to our store.”

The store manager will be Jim Grady, the partner of local activist, philanthropist and Stonewall Democrat member Mike Picardi. The couple initially approached PWACU with the plan for the thrift store and have been instrumental in getting the project off the ground, Johnson added.

To help get the store up and running, PWACU will hold a fundraiser dinner at the Market Street Grill’s cottonwood location. While noting the event’s unfortunate closeness to the organization’s last fundraiser, a fashion show in July, Johnson said the timing was unintentional: the restaurant offered the space when they could, and she accepted. She also noted that the $75 ticket price for the dinner may startle people who have attended other PWACU fundraisers.

“We didn’t want to be exclusive, but this is for our capitol campaign,” she said, also noting that the money raised at the dinner will go not only to the store, but to other programs PWACU wants to offer, including a group that will advocate for more funding for Utahns with HIV/AIDS during the next legislative session.  PWACU is creating the advocacy group, Johnson added, in order to get money to help more people with AIDS than Utah’s portion of money from the federal Ryan White CARE Act – legislation designed to provide money for people with HIV/AIDS who have no other health care options.

So far, a number of sponsors have jumped on board to help Our Store transition from business plan to brick and mortar. Along with Picardi they include restaurant group and Market Street Grill owners Gastronomy, Inc., the Bruce Bastian Foundation, Salt Lake City Democratic representative Jackie Biskupski, One Realty Group (formerly Rainbow Mountain Realty) and an anonymous donor who has offered to match the largest donation PWACU receives for the store. Along with more sponsors, PWACU is also looking for people to donate silent auction items to the dinner. For sponsorship and donation opportunities call Toni Johnson at 484-2205.

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