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Wolff on Madison Thrift Store: Disappointing, But Not Worth Opposing

Madison City Commission candidate Jennifer Wolff is disappointed with the new downtown thrift store proposal:

Yesterday's front page news was the new community thrift store planned for Madison. Two years ago when this issue came up, it was rife with rile. So it was with a sigh of disappointment, rather than the delight of satisfaction that I read the story. Disappointment because we already have several second-hand stores in town. Disappointment because the downtown could really use a new movie theater, grocery store, or restaurant -- things we ARE lacking options of in Madison. Disappointment because this is not what I wanted [Jennifer Wolff, "On That Thrift Shop Down the Road," campaign website, 2014.03.06].

But Wolff's personal disappointment doesn't translate into full-blown political opposition:

It's tempting to malign those who make what we view as mistakes with money. A major point of contention the first time around was the thrift store's request for city funding. This time though, it appears, the project is being done with private funding. Gone is the $150,000 request for tax-payer funding. For those corporations and citizens who feel this is a worthy project, an "I know what you should do with your money better than you attitude" could serve as a turn-off for future developments. I volunteer my time and donate to charities; I would be rather affronted to have someone tell me I should be donating to Charity B instead of Charity A, or working for Charity X instead of Charity Y. Would I rather be getting a $650,000 entertainment venue? Heck yes! But I am not an investor in the project, so that's not really my value judgment to make [Wolff, 2014.03.06].

Two corrections:

  1. My count in 2012 had the thrift store backers asking for at least $300K in public subsidies. But the thrift store developers are rejecting all public funds this time around, so that's not a major point.
  2. It is your value judgment to make, Ms. Wolff. Every citizen is entitled to judge whether the thrift store adds value to Madison's downtown and economy. Ms. Wolff makes a judgment that the now wholly private project is better than nothing and is not worth the sort of open political opposition that fellow candidate Ashley Kenneth Allen offers. But she judges, as do I, that the thrift store is a disappointment, and that there are many better projects that will respond to more pressing needs that we should still work on.

Judging is good and necessary. Madison's residents are free to spend their money on whatever legal projects they wish and to discuss the merits of those projects. I am pleased to see Wolff and Allen making those judgments and leading those discussions.


  1. DB 2014.03.12

    So start a non-profit, petition local citizens for funds, and build what you want to build. Getting upset because others did just that and built something for the poor that will also fund other non-profits seems like a lost cause. Wolff has enough sense to put her selfish wants aside and to understand political opposition isn't warranted here. Getting upset over no public input in the initial plan a couple of years ago held water, but it doesn't anymore. If you have a good enough idea that has a lot of support, getting the funds should not be an issue. It's always going to be an uphill battle as most wealthy philanthropists would rather donate to causes to help poverty issues than ones that give our citizens sedentary recreational options. You think I had to spend my childhood growing up in a town with a movie theatre that had no air conditioning.....first world problems....

  2. Charlie Johnson 2014.03.12

    The prudent thing to do to is to test out the thrift store idea by utilizing an existing store front rather than spending $600,000 on brick and mortar!! The former Radio Shack (Dakota Drug) building would be a good choice and location to try. By not trying this approach, it appears that the end goal is to build a new building not to help ICAP. The game plan has no business plan unfortunately.

  3. Jennifer Wolff 2014.03.12

    D'oh! Thanks for the correction. What I should have said was $150,000 in city dollars. You are quite right that the way I stated it under represents the amount of public assistance they were requesting in the initial go round. Mea culpa.

    On your point #2, again you are right. It is my value judgment to make whether the project is worthy to me. But if the investors for the thrift store feel that is the best use for their private funding, that's their call. While I do wish they had been open to public input, ultimately we aren't at liberty to demand private dollars be spend on a project we deem more meaningful ... unless the scrutiny is invited, of course. :)

  4. Anne Beal 2014.03.12

    Nothing wrong with the grocery store you got there. Restaurants are unlikely investments during a recession. And a movie theater? Don't you have satellite? Cable?netfix?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.12

    No sweat, Jennifer—I had to review my own blog posts to make sure I had the numbers right.

    Anne, you are right that there is nothing wrong with JubiShine... at least nothing that a little local competition wouldn't fix.

    (And Anne, we are not in a recession. South Dakota never was in a recession. According to BEA data, The national recession ended in Q3 2009; since then, 17 out of 18 quarters have seen GDP growth.)

  6. Charlie Johnson 2014.03.14

    Keep in mind that donations made to the Madison Foundation for the thrift store project are tax deductible. So in real terms, tax dollars/tax policy is being used to fund the project.

  7. DB 2014.03.14

    So they get a tax break for giving a ton of money to a good cause and their dollar goes further?....big deal.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.14

    DB, it is a big deal, when our argument for tolerating the project is that it is a private project with no public budget impacts. If the project gains ground (literally!) thanks to taxpayers diverting their money to that project instead of other public projects, then the right of non-donors to complain increases.

    At the very least, Charlie points out one more fine example of how the "You didn't build that" argument actually holds some water, and how everything depends on community.

  9. DB 2014.03.14

    So do you expect public input on every business that wants to come to town? Does building the industrial park make them require everyone's input to get Global Polymer to relocate here? about the new salt manufacturer since they will be using the rail and other local infrastructure? Why isn't there a huge uproar over those projects? There's a time to complain and then there's a time where people just complain because they can. You just can't accept a group of people being gracious and move along. Like I said before, if you want something built, get the funds together and do it. Many of you like to sit and condemn those who actually do and act like is some big conspiracy or there is some ulterior motive behind it. It's a slap in the face to any philanthropy that goes on in this town. The jealousy is starting to smell.

  10. Joseph g thompson 2014.03.14

    DB: One thing I have learned on this blog is that progressives not only want tax money spent only on projects they approve of but also expect private money to be spent only on projects they approve of.

  11. Charlie Johnson 2014.03.14

    I wish more people would sign off like Joe does. If you have an opinion, it should be worth putting your name behind it. As for jealousy or any other measure, that is not the issue. My last post was to point out that "we built it" is not entirely true. If the contributions to the foundation were not tax deductible, hardly a single dollar would be raised. So yes, tax policy and tax monies plays a part here. I run a farm business that grosses a million dollars plus so I do have some acumen as to what a business or business plan should entail. Since the donations to this store will be directed to benefit ICAP which is a public agency funded by tax dollars-local and federal-it is prudent that the public see a work/business plan (which they haven't to this point). In the meantime a community survey on needs in the community of Madison is kept quiet. BTW--the movie theatre(2 screens) in Madison has only brought 4 new movies to Madison in the last 7 weeks. How is that progress for Madison?

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