Gerhard Scheler doesn't want to close the Salvation Army thrift store doors in Waukesha, but the organization doesn't have a choice.
The Salvation Army captain said the Waukesha location, 1537 E. Moreland Blvd., has been the company's second-most profitable store over the years. "We would like to stay there," Scheler said. "We're not closing on our own."
But the organization said it will search for a new location locally.
Boucher Auto Group, which bought the property at the end of 2012, recently notified Scheler, who operates the metro Milwaukee retail stores with his wife, that it now wants to utilize the space. Boucher currently operates dealerships on the east and west of the Salvation Army store.
Scheler said the store will close on Saturday, July 5, and Salvation Army must have everything moved out of the store by the end of July.
"I understand. It's business," said Scheler, regarding Boucher's decision.
Unknown plans for site
A representative from Boucher declined to comment on what it has planned for the site, and Jeff Fortin, the city's community development specialist, said he hasn't heard from Boucher officials lately or received any proposals.
But Fortin said if Boucher plans on making any changes to the exterior of the 20,000-square-foot building it would have to come before the city for the necessary approvals.
"Last year they talked with the city and had some ideas but nothing formal," Fortin said.
Boucher bought the building for $1.71 million, said Mike Patnode, commercial appraiser for the city of Waukesha. Salvation Army had been leasing the building from a property group based in Columbus, Ohio.
Patnode said the building was put on the market "quietly" for a couple of weeks before Boucher contacted the property owner. Scheler said he hadn't been aware the building was up for sale, saying "it went behind the scenes." But since it doesn't have the means, Salvation Army would not have bought the building anyway, Scheler added.
"When Boucher closed (on the sale), we wondered what was going to happen, but it wasn't until March of this year that they said you have to be out," Scheler said. "I don't have a problem with Boucher. They gave us three extensions."
Pick 'n Save, which is adjacent to the thrift store and shares a common wall, has a separate property tax code than the thrift store, meaning another transaction would have to occur for Boucher to take over the entire property. Aspen Lake LLC in Wauwatosa owns the Pick 'n Save property.
"I haven't heard anything and I'm not aware that it's for sale," Patnode said. "But I wouldn't doubt that (Boucher) wouldn't mind owning it, so a competitor doesn't get it and aren't in between them. But that's just my personal opinion."
Continuing the mission
Once the Waukesha location closes, the nearest remaining Salvation Army thrift stores are in West Allis, Franklin and Brown Deer.
However, Scheler said the Brown Deer location, 4747 W. Bradley Road, will be moving to 75th and Brown Deer Road in Milwaukee near the former Northridge Mall in the coming months. That store, Scheler said, will be bigger in size than the current location and offer more visibility.
Scheler said he has offered the employees at the Waukesha location the option to transfer to the new Milwaukee location.
"It's going to hurt us for a few months," Scheler said of not having the income from the Waukesha store. "It's a loss."
That's why Scheler wants to find a new location as soon as possible and has been scouting the area.
"We haven't had any definite leads," Scheler said. "We're still looking. We'd like to stay in Waukesha."
Realistically, he said, it could take until the summer of 2015 to open another Waukesha store if a site is found and the proper negotiations work out.
The Salvation Army thrift stores sell donated or gently used appliances, children's, men's and women's clothing, household goods, furniture and other miscellaneous items.
The money that is made at the Salvation Army thrift stores funds the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Milwaukee. The center, which has 100 beds, is for men recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. The program allows them to stay there for up to a year.
Scheler said the Waukesha community has been good to the Salvation Army over the years.
It has been at its current site for the last seven years. Before that for roughly a decade, it operated in an old grocery store, off Barstow and Bank streets, which, coincidentally, Goodwill had used for its local thrift store prior to the Salvation Army. (Goodwill moved from the site after it completed a new retail and donation center on Nike Drive in Waukesha.) Previous to that site, Salvation operated in a smaller retail store in the heart of downtown Waukesha.
"There's a good population base there," Scheler said. "There's certainly a need for us to have a family store there. A lot of people want to help in Waukesha and we have guys in our program from Waukesha and Waukesha County.
"The needs are met and people feel good about helping in their community. We had a good customer and donor base."
Scheler encourages those who still want to donate in the future to call (414) 276-4316 and a Salvation Army truck can pick up the items, or people can schedule a pickup online at www.satruck.org.