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Madison Thrift Store Redux: Backers to Build Without Public Subsidy

Ah, Madison.

Two years ago, we Madisonites had all sorts of fun discussing one group's plan to spend $1,050,000 to build a big community thrift store on South Egan Avenue on the site of the old Jensen Motors building. Confronted with unexpected public opposition, based in part on the fact that the private developers wanted a six-figure public subsidy for the project, thrift store backers folded up their card table and went home...

...where they went back to doing things the Madison way: keep things secret, line up money from our pals, and forge ahead to do what we want without having to ask the public's permission.

The Madison Daily Leader announces the new thrift store plan in tonight's paper. I'm pretty sure MDL reporter wrote it, because if they had, they would done decent journalism and sought contrasting opinions from some of the business owners who figured prominently in opposition to the last thrift store scheme. No, tonight's article reads more like a press release from the Lake Area Improvement Corporation, all smiles and cheers. There's a even a little rebuttal from thrift store booster Jerry Johnson, who says his group (yup, pretty much the same group that backed the 2012 plan) has secured $400K in corporate and private pledges (not cash in hand, mind you) toward the project

This financial support, which is well over half the projected cost, shows that many agree with the task force in their belief that the project is "absolutely worthwhile," Johnson said [press release, Madison Daily Leader, 2014.03.05].

Absolutely, meaning how can anyone disagree with the unnamed many who we say have promised us money? Take that, you naysayers! Money talks!


The thrift store will be better than the dark, empty Jensen building. A few more people will have the chance to work for $7.25 (wait! $8.50! 'cuz we Dems are going to win!) an hour. Madison shoppers will enjoy expanded offerings of second-hand stuff. The $650K price tag, a full third off the original proposal, is a sign that regular folks got through to the thrift store boosters in 2012 and convinced them they didn't need to lock up valuable public resources in their private vision of downtown grandificence.

But the community thrift store still fails to live up to its name, in that it hasn't been used as an opportunity to build community. After receiving all sorts of suggestions for alternative downtown development ideas with popular support, the thrift store boosters' big plan for downtown is still a thrift store. A smaller thrift store. This proposal did not grow organically from the conversations of the downtown development task force that arose from the fires of the thrift store discussion in 2012. It's not the community's idea; it's one group's idea, hatched in private, modified just enough to avoid the need for messy public participation and approval... which, since the backers are now spending their own money and not everybody's, is just fine... as long as they put "Community" in quotation marks.

Backers hope to begin construction around June and have the store up and running by fall. To learn more or to contribute, "contact a task force volunteer. Members of the group include Clark Sinclair, Don and Donna Amert, Jeff Bloom, Jerry and Mechelle Johnson and Jon Knuths. Donations may also be sent to Madison Community Foundation, 820 N. Washington Ave., Madison, S.D., 57042."

p.s.: Unlike the last time they tried this, the Madison Community Foundation is absolutely funct and legally authorized to handle money for this project.



    In 2012, the group asked for $150,000 in direct funding from the city. The group is no longer asking for direct city funding for this 2014 project. It was not disclosed if the LAIC is helping with funding or loan guarantees, or if it is one of the corporations making a financial donation (other than the land and building).

    As you probably know, the LAIC receives much of its funding from the City of Madison and has also been used to shuffle previously owned city property in the past. In more ways than one, these corporations receive city funding and use the money to complete projects that may or may not have been voted on by the citizens of Madison.

    How do you feel about this situation? Does Madison need a thrift store? Do we have any open buildings that could be used at a lower cost during a trial period? Do you feel this project has been discussed with the public enough? Will Madison residents support this project? Are there other projects that you think the LAIC and Community Foundation should focus on?

    Currently, Mayor Roy Lindsay is our representative on the Community Foundation board and Scott Delzer is our representative on the Lake Area Improvement Corporation board. Did they know about this project or offer any feedback?

    This is what happens when we don't have a public discussion. When we give our tax money to private corporations they can hold private meetings that are never disclosed and do not comply with South Dakota's open government meeting laws. They can also do whatever they want with the money and assets after it is in their possession. I am not aware of any public discussion of this project in the last two years since it was last tabled by the City Commission in 2012. Does anyone else know of any public disclosures or discussion? The article in the paper tonight is the first one I have seen in two years time. We need open discussions and transparency.

    Instead of taking the public feedback in 2012 and viewing it as an opportunity to improve the project, they took it private and pushed it forward. This could have been an amazing building. It could have housed a grocery co-op, the local food pantry, space for a farmer's market, small retail incubator areas for niche retailers, food vendor fairs on the weekends featuring live events and entertainment, the thrift store, and more. It could have been a multi-use, multi-purpose building that would have been the center piece of a revitalized downtown district. Now, it will just be a thrift store. I am really sad that this was not brought to the public for more development ideas. Instead, we defaulted to our status quo operations.

    If elected on April 8th, I promise to be YOUR voice on the City Commission. It is time for transparency and open dialogue.
    -Ashley Kenneth Allen

  2. The other officers of the Madison Community Foundation Inc. are:

    2014 Director JON KNUTHS 120 N EGAN MADISON SD 57042

    2014 Director ED FIEGEN 200 N EGAN MADISON SD 57042

    2014 Director ROY LINDSAY 116 W CENER MADISON SD 57042


    2014 President JERRY JOHNSON 45312 SD HIGHWAY 34 MADISON SD 57042

    2014 Vice President DELON MORK 117 NE 2ND MADISON SD 57042



    According to the SOS filings.

    I know I have had conversations with some of these gentlemen about expanding the vision of the thrift store to include more options. Now what I would like to know why they didn't feel it necessary to work with the community to make this project something more than just a thrift store. The Community Foundation was basically created as an "arm" of the local city government to help fund the Community Center, much like the LAIC is our economic development "arm" for the city. Both wrapped up in Incorporation papers.

    We have so much potential for the downtown district and it is being squandered. I would love to see the business plan, hours of operation, number of employees vs. volunteers, etc. The Salvation Army just closed their thrift store in Sioux Falls because the costs outweighed the money generated.

    The Madison Daily Leader and KJAM will not do investigative reporting on this issue because they will not want to alienate and make some of their biggest sponsors and advertisers upset. They make money by selling ads, not news. If their will be any "expose" on it, it will be all up to Madville Times.

    I want to say that the overall idea of having a county wide thrift store is an honorable one. I understand the need for charity. But, I would like to see a thrift store that includes a food pantry and other services for our low income residents. As I stated above, we could have expanded this project to be so much more. If we are going to spend money on such a project, I feel that it needs to be a multi-purpose building in order to keep the revenue flowing and the doors open.

    -Ashley Kenneth Allen

  3. grudznick 2014.03.05

    I remember about this Thrift store. It sounded like a nifty idea. I think I was a big supporter of it. I will study it again.

  4. Joan Brown 2014.03.05

    The Salvation Army in Sioux Falls just recently closed their thrift store because it was costing too much too operate, above what they were taking in. The trouble with thrift stores in SF is that they won't pick up small donations, like two or three garbage bags of clothing, unless you have a large item too. It doesn't matter to them if a person doesn't have a way to get to the store to drop the stuff off. Therefore, when I have things to give away, I advertise them on

  5. Matt Groce 2014.03.06

    Cory I'm surprised you're not just claiming victory. They did almost exactly what you told them to do. Do you know how many times that has happened? Has it ever happened!?!

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.06

    Sshhh, Matt! Don't remind them!

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