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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 01:57 am

What’s in store

Once-troubled Goodwill plans big changes in coming weeks

Untitled Document What’s that old saying — when God closes one door, he opens another? It’s almost the same for Goodwill shopaholics. Though the godfather of all thrift franchises is closing its store at 2305 Monroe St. on Sunday, it will open two other facilities in the weeks ahead. Sharon Durbin, executive director of Land of Lincoln Goodwill, says she hopes to complete an expansion and renovation of Goodwill’s North Dirksen Parkway store by mid-April and the company’s new headquarters in the old K’s Merchandise building at 2001 Wabash Ave. in mid-May. The new location will include not only a store but also a 1,500-square-foot café called Edgar’s Coffeehouse, named in honor of Goodwill founder Edgar Helms. It will offer specialty drinks, doughnuts, and, eventually, Pease’s products and will serve as a training lab for some Goodwill clients, Durbin says. As thrift fans know, Goodwill closed its most visible store, at 1333 Wabash Ave., in January. Ironically, that building is now occupied by Best Value, a for-profit thrift store owned and operated Larry Hupp and Debra Neece, who resigned their longtime executive positions with Goodwill in 2005 as federal prosecutors were set to charge them with Medicaid fraud. Durbin says the landlord asked Goodwill to vacate its old Wabash location in January because the charity, anticipating an eventual move to the K’s site, was on a month-to-month lease and new tenants were ready to move in. “I wasn’t sure who it was up front, but it’s OK because we were moving out anyway. It worked out all right,” Durbin says. The Monroe store has been sold to Walgreens; the company’s current headquarters, at 800 N. 10th St., is also under negotiations with a prospective buyer, Durbin says. The coming weeks, with two stores taken offline, could put a crimp in the agency’s bottom line, but Durbin says that so far customers have remained loyal. “We haven’t felt anything yet. Ask me in 30 days and it might be different,” she says, “but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with community support during our transition.”
The people who have had the roughest ride with Goodwill during the past few years are the employees, who have endured an investigation, the unseemly departures of Hupp and Neece, five months under an interim director brought in from Goodwill International, and finally the new leadership style of Durbin. Durbin says employees have responded by forming a wonderful team. “I’ve been very, very proud of my team. They’ve endured a lot of change since I walked in the door,” she says. “They’ve been doing very good. I’m very impressed with them.”
The feeling isn’t entirely mutual. Some employees have grumbled, anonymously, that Durbin disbanded the “management team” set up by interim director James Verpoten — a team that included middle-management staff and had access to the board of directors. Verpoten, in a telephone interview from his home in New York, repeatedly uses the word “transparency” to describe the way in which he steered Goodwill and says the management team was crucial to that effort. “You have to be transparent to the staff and the board and the community,” he says. “We have to remember that the agency does not belong to the board or the executives; it belongs to the community that it serves. Consequently, you need to have transparency in the operations of your agency.”
Durbin, however, says the management team was “devised to put a structure in place” while the board went through the process of hiring a new executive director and that she replaced it with a different system. “As the new CEO, I have identified an executive leadership team of four other individuals, and that team supports me to focus on policies and procedures and employee programs,” she says, mentioning a bonus program launched in July and an employee-recognition program that will begin soon. On the horizon is another “reorganization,” Durbin says. She’s planning to review and revamp each position, job title, and set of responsibilities, and allow everyone to “bid” on the job he or she wants. Some current employees see this plan as a threat, but Durbin insists that fretful employees simply don’t understand the process. “Anytime you change things, not everybody’s going to be happy,” she says.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@Illinoistimes.com.
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