Goodwill Manasota, now in its 100th year, is stepping up its game with Wednesday's grand opening of its 33rd regional location, designed to be a prototype for the next generation of Goodwill superstores.
The modern location, designed by Sarasota architect Randall Paul Sample, features more than 100,000 freshly stocked items, including clothing, jewelry, furniture, electronics, books, housewares, toys and vintage and antique finds.
The new store, which officially opens at 9 a.m. Wednesday, looks like a mid-level department store at first glance, and will have some retailers keeping a close eye on it for its competitive prowess. And for good reason: Manasota Goodwill racks up $50 million in retail sales at its 33 locations annually and ranks among the best run in Goodwill International's membership, boasting "among highest market penetration in the Goodwill system," said Veronica Brandon Miller, vice president of Goodwill Foundation.
The strategic goal is never to have a donor drive more than five miles to drop off, or more than 10 miles to shop in a Goodwill outlet," Miller added.
Miller estimates the nonprofit's economic impact at $20 million locally -- "from people we employ, people we find employment for, job connections and training. We get no state or federal funding and we are very unique in that 97 percent of our funding comes from clothes donations."
The stunning multi-entranced, multi-use 30,000-square-foot complex at 5150 N. Tamiami Trail is just south of University Parkway and the Ringling Museum.
Its proximity to arguably the region's greatest tourist draw and Sarasota-Bradenton's aerial gateway prompted raised eyebrows when the plans were originally filed with authorities. There was a perceived "stigma" of having a Goodwill in the neighborhood, and some Indian Shores residents organized in opposition. But Sarasota city planners approved the site after some months of wrangling.
"We are excited about this newer and larger space, which allows us to keep our presence in the North Trail community," says Bob Rosinsky, CEO and president of Goodwill Manasota. "We're consolidating and offering more career-related services, along with providing shoppers with a great shopping experience. This new location will continue to support our mission of turning donations in employment that will help the Manatee and Sarasota communities in their goal for economic sustainability."
For many, interaction with Goodwill consists primarily of a fast, convenient drive-by drop-off of outdated, or out-of-size belongings; or for the sad ritual disposal of a deceased loved one's wardrobe. Many may be surprised at how that simple collection of unwanted goods generates a myriad of local benefits, almost beyond measure.
The organization "is all about jobs," and not only employs 700 local "unemployables, at above minimum wage," Miller said, but the mission also keeps ten of millions of pounds of local waste -- 86 percent of what comes in the door -- out of landfills annually.
"The goal is to reach a 100 percent recycling," he said.
To augment its recycling mission, the new regional center was designed as a green building and was built by area developer Jim Bridges of Sarasota's Jebco Ventures. The architecture pays homage of sorts to the Ringling Museum with three archways, and offers three electric car recharging hook-up stations. The building has different entrances for each primary function, and features a drive-up donation center, a Job Connection and a Good Neighbor Center where visitors can take classes, workshops, search for jobs online and get personalized assistance to find employment.
Stephen Frater, Herald senior business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.