Montgomery County Thrift Shop closes, unable to continue through pandemic
Store was in business for more than 75 years
The Montgomery County Thrift Shop
Photos by Dana Gerber
This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. June 24, 2020, to correct a reference to proceeds that were divided up among local charities.
The financial and logistical strain of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Montgomery County Thrift Shop in Bethesda to shut down.
“It was basically economics and spacing,” Jan Cary, the president of the Montgomery County Thrift Shop board, said in a phone interview Monday.
The store closed temporarily on March 12 to follow state requirements on social distancing. The store’s board decided on June 8 that it would not reopen, closing permanently after more than 75 years.
Cary said it struggled to figure out how to adhere to social distancing guidelines, a factor in the board’s decision to close.
Cary said the thrift shop received a PPP loan — money from the Small Business Administration that a recipient can keep if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks. The money must be used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.
The shop closed before it could get a county grant.
“We have a steep rent in this area,” Cary said. “The landlord did work with us to try to adjust that, but it just wasn’t enough.”
The shop was a nonprofit. Two-thirds of its sales went toward expenses, such as rent and paying the few employees who aren’t volunteers. Other proceeds were split among five local charities. Each usually received about $15,000 to $20,000 a year.
The agencies were:
- the Montgomery County Federation of Women’s Clubs
- the Montgomery County Section of the National Council of Jewish Women
- Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington
- the Suburban Hospital Foundation.
The shop has been open in the Montgomery County area since 1943, starting with a $197.65 donation from the Women’s Activity Committee of the Office of Civil Defense, which was being phased out.
It was originally on Hampden Lane, and moved to Wisconsin Avenue in 1977.
The shop was founded by Mrs. B. Peyton Whalen, who was chair of the Women’s Activity Committee of the Office of Civil Defense for Maryland, according to documents outlining the history. She saw a need for a place where low-income people could shop, and wanted to raise money for local agencies to promote Montgomery County welfare.
“[She] felt that there was a need to help people support their home and families during the war,” Cary said. “She gathered people, and they set it up.”
Most employees were volunteers. Some were members of the charities, while others were students seeking service learning hours or individuals completing court-appointed community service.
The shop is now sorting and packing up its merchandise, which included clothes, decorations, books and jewelry.
Cary said the shop has yet to find a service to take the merchandise, as many services are still closed or limited in what they can pick up due to the virus. The shop must vacate the building by July 31.
Bethesda-based developer EYA Holdings plans to eventually tear down the shop’s building to make room for more outdoor spaces, as part of the Farm Women’s Market revitalization project, though that isn’t slated to begin for several years.
Cary began working at the shop as a volunteer 13 years ago. She said the shop plans to hold a special sale for its volunteers — many of whom have retired — on June 29 to honor their work and service.
“A lot of people are finding it a sad situation, but there’s really nothing that we can control at this point,” she said. “We just didn’t have the reserves, because that’s the point of having a nonprofit.”