Expensive trash, it appears, was one of the reasons Thrift Town closed its doors last week after 45 years of supplying bargain hunters with all things used.
“The trash compactor issue was ‘salt in the wound’,” said co-owner Wendy Steinmetz, piling up on other costs like healthcare fees and the rising minimum wage.
The latter costs had been ongoing, but Recology recently required Thrift Town to pull the store’s trash compactor every week even if it wasn’t full, an endeavor that cost “thousands of dollars.”
A pull refers to Recology servicing the compactor and leaving it empty.
“To be able to pull our trash compactor when it’s ready is one thing, but to have to pull it regularly,” Steinmetz said. “It was stuff like that had our costs [at twice as much as] our sales.”
The trash trouble began when the store got a letter from Recology in January indicating that because there was organic matter in the compactor, it needed to be emptied at least once a week. A recology spokesperson declined to give a cost estimate of emptying any specific compactor, but said the company gives steep discounts for businesses that separate recycling and compost. Steinmetz, meanwhile, said one of the reasons the compactor previously needed to be serviced so rarely is because the business was a diligent recycler.
Most of Thrift Town’s worries, however, were less esoteric. Sales simply weren’t keeping up with costs. Steinmetz estimated that the store needed to sell $7,000 a day to survive. Its sales were about half of that.
“Unfortunately, our sales would need to more than double in order to even break even,” Steinmetz said. “
San Francisco’s minimum wage has been rising steadily and will hit $15 an hour by 2018. The city also mandates that businesses with 20 or more employees pay Healthy SF fees to ensure citywide health care for the uninsured.
“The minimum wage has been really hard on us. We sell $3 items and we have to sell a lot of them,” Steinmetz explained. “The labor increases one after another have been hard to absorb.”
Thrift Town maintained a close relationship with its staff. Steinmetz said one store manager who has worked with the company, starting at the San Francisco location, since its first year.
“We absolutely are about our people, and at the end of the day all three of the owners dropped everything to be with our crew yesterday,” she said.
The owners provided insurance, but mandated Healthy SF payments made it difficult to hold out. For a while, they simply covered the costs themselves. They next tried a surcharge to customers, but the latter balked.
“That’s been part of our declining sales – people aren’t willing to absorb that cost,” she said.
So Thrift Town absorbed the costs instead, adding to its burden.
Steinmetz attributed the decline in part to a disappearing clientele.
“Getting new customers and new demographics to come has been hard,” she said.
And trying to get existing customers to save a business is generally a non-starter.
“I had one customer email me saying, ‘you should’ve told the customers, we would’ve helped.’
You can’t just send out a mass email saying we need you to spend more money or we’re gonna close,” she said.
In the end, the owners decided after a meeting with the city and their landlord last week just days before the closure that they would be forced to close.