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Granny’s Attic considers move into town

Nearly 40 years after Granny’s Attic opened at Sunrise Ridge, its members are scheduled to vote next week on moving the non-profit thrift store into town.

Granny’s eight-person board is recommending that its members, who volunteer at the store and vote on policy matters, move to relocate the shop to the Vashon Market IGA shopping center. Supporters of the idea say that doing so would provide additional and better space for the cramped store and bring it to a central, more easily accessible location. It would also free members of the nonprofit to focus the store’s proceeds on fulfilling health-related grants instead of on maintaining and remodeling the aging Sunrise Ridge facility.

Other Granny’s members, however, say that they are being asked to make the decision far too quickly. Some believe Granny’s history at Sunrise Ridge is important and that the board has not done its due diligence internally or externally, including communicating with its landlords at Sunrise Ridge, who say the news took them by surprise.

Susan Chun, the president of the Granny’s board since January, acknowledged the disagreement and the magnitude of the potential transition.

“It was a tough decision all the way around,” she said. “It has not been easy.”

Questions about moving surfaced last year, Chun noted, but the idea was dismissed in part because of the sheer enormity of the task. However, as the cold and rain of winter set in, the concrete buildings with inadequate heat and leaking roofs showed their age, and the idea surfaced again in February, she said. Tim Johnson, the business manager at Granny’s, was asked to determine if there were viable options for the store elsewhere on Vashon and to make a recommendation to the board. While he started the process believing Granny’s should stay at its longtime home, he said he changed his mind after exploring the possibilities.

“It’s where the evidence led me,” he said.

When it met March 17,  the Granny’s board considered three options, Chun said: to stay at the site and pay to fix problems at the buildings and in the parking lot, to take over ownership of the site with the Sunrise Ridge board or to relocate.

Because most Granny’s board members do not want to continue paying for repairs at the site, she said one option stood out.

“The only thing that made sense to the board was to look elsewhere,” she said.

The vote wasn’t unanimous she added, but the group arrived at a consensus and is recommending to members that on April 7, they vote to move.

Providing a tour of Granny’s Attic recently, Johnson said the buildings were constructed in the 1950s, and they have not aged well.

“This was not a facility that was built by the military to withstand the test of time,” he said.

Since starting in his position in late 2011, Johnson said, Granny’s has spent more than $100,000 on building upgrades and repairs, but there is more to do, including that the rear of the annex building needs to be torn down to its exterior walls and the plumbing, heating and electrical work redone. A new roof  needs to be installed, he added, and the parking lot needs to be repaved.

Because Sunrise Ridge charges such low rent, maintenance has been deferred, and Johnson said he believes the only way the landlords could fund some of the necessary work is by asking the tenants for funds to do so or doubling everyone’s rent.

It is against this backdrop, Chun said, that the board made its decision.

“I have to keep driving myself and the board in the direction of how we can best serve our mission, which is the health care of the island,” she said. “If we spend that money on a new roof or furnace or parking lot, that takes away from our purpose.”

Last Friday, a group of about 20 Granny’s staff, volunteers and board members gathered at the IGA shopping center, which is owned by Shawn Hoffman, for a tour of the site. Johnson led the tour and explained that the former Island Variety store, roughly the same size as the current retail space of both buildings, would become the new store and that the space the Vashon Library just vacated would likely become the new staff, sorting and dock area. The batting cage area, roughly the size of Granny’s building two, would serve as warehouse space.

“It is your decision to make,” he told those gathered.

In the space, several volunteers and staff commented on the improved working conditions the building would bring.

“Our vision is no one has to work outdoors and no one has to work in an unheated, drippy space,” Johnson said.

Aaron Calhoun, the store’s dock manager, was particularly enthusiastic and noted that even though the dock is now enclosed, rain and wind still blow in, and in the summer, it is “a hot box.”

The additional space would mean that no donations would be lost to rain damage, he added, and that there would be fewer costly trips to the Salvation Army with items the store had no room to store.

Volunteer Pam Tre-goning said the proposed location would make Granny’s accessible to people with disabilities, who find the current stores difficult to navigate.

Jeannine Emery noted the location near a bus line and the warmth of the room, a contrast to the damp, unheated space she and others sort clothes in.

“This is a real gift, I think, to be able to consider,” she said.

Others, however, do not view the potential new space as a gift at all.

Ken Hostetler, who has volunteered with Granny’s for more than a decade, believes the move is short-sighted, he said, and will hurt Sunrise Ridge.

“I am voting no,” he said. “Every dollar put into IGA is wasted, and every dollar put into Sunrise Ridge is a dollar to keep it up and running.”

Margaret Mackey, another longtime volunteer, also believes Granny’s should continue to support Sunrise Ridge, which she said belongs to the island for the good of the community. Other tenants at Sunrise Ridge include the health center, the food bank and Voice of Vashon.

“It’s not helping Sunrise Ridge one bit to move to a strip mall. ... We are here to serve the community of Vashon, and we will also serve the community of Vashon by helping at Sunrise Ridge,” she said.Mackey added that when the board presented the information to members on March 24, it provided only the option to move to the shopping center; nothing comparable was presented about staying and developing Sunrise Ridge. And the vote feels too soon, she added.

“They are hoping to railroad this, in my opinion,” she said.

Donna Klemka, a longtime member of Granny’s who served on its board for more than a decade, said she recently sent a letter to the Granny’s board, sharing some of her concerns. As a former policy analyst for the Seattle City Council, her professional training is in how to make decisions, she said. She believes the Granny’s board is falling short in this regard.

“We need time, and we need process,” she said in a recent interview.

She, too, was disappointed to be provided with only one option.

“Businesses do not make decisions that way,” she said. “You need more than one option to make a good business decision.”

One of her primary concerns, she said, is for the long-term security of Granny’s Attic. Under the proposed situation, Granny’s would give up a site intended for nonprofits to move to a commercial site, leaving Granny’s, she believes, more vulnerable to rent increases, particularly if the building is sold.

She also noted that a move to the proposed facility would displace the batting cages and a small community church that meets there.

“We ought to be looking carefully at that kind of (information),” she said. “I think there is more to this than the board and Tim understand.”

Finally, she noted that the board made its decision without first talking with the board of Sunrise Ridge — a move that troubles her.

“I think it is unthinkable to talk about costs with the owner of IGA without having those same conversations with the Sunrise Ridge board,” she said.

Greg Martin, the president of Sunrise Ridge, confirmed that the news was unexpected, especially since the two groups were actively working together on how much each would pay to repave the Granny’s parking lot this summer. He received the news the day after a joint meeting where none of the Granny’s representatives present made any mention of the possibility of moving.

“It was a shock,” he said. “The board did not really know how to respond.”

Martin said he is aware the buildings at Sunrise Ridge need care, but added that they are hard to maintain when they are under constant use. Also, he said, Sunrise Ridge has prioritized keeping rent low. Had it not, he said, it could have afforded more maintenance and upgrades.

Additionally, he said he has been provided with information the Granny’s board used when it made its decision. He believes some of that information pertaining to potential improvements at Sunrise Ridge shows a higher cost to staying at Sunrise Ridge than he feels is accurate.

“In one way, it is not our battle,” he added. “On the other hand, it becomes our battle because we are the battleground.”

Martin stressed, however, that if Granny’s moves, he will direct the board to wish them well and that both non-profits will continue to do important work in the community.

“We don’t want animosity with Granny’s,” he said.

For her part, Chun said the Granny’s board informed Sunrise Ridge as soon as it voted.

As for criticisms about rushing the process, she said she feels it is only fair to move quickly because of the pending paving project, and if Sunrise Ridge proceeds with it, it must get on the contractor’s schedule soon.

“Yes, it’s fast,” she added. “But I don’t know that the answer would change if we waited another 30 days.”

In the meantime, Johnson said he is looking for public feedback about the possible move and has put a suggestion box out at Granny’s Attic to collect responses.

“Whatever the decision comes out to be,” he said, “we have to be respectful and honor the feelings of the people who are not happy about it.”

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