Danny Santiago walked into the SoBe Thrifty store in Miami Beach and found exactly what he needed, right above his head.
“Could I get that mannequin, please?” he said to the store manager Lyzette Vellón. Santiago, a fashion stylist and SoBe Thrifty regular for six years, had come in the week before and seen the female mannequin he needed for a Art Basel pop-up shop he’s running on Meridian Avenue
Vellón climbed the stairs to disrobe the model and pass it down to Santiago. He’d recently learned the store is closing at the end of January.
“The employees are nice, and so is the service they give to the community here,” he said. “Also, they have nice stuff here.”
The store, 1435 Alton Rd., will close at the end of January after seeing a sharp drop in business during the construction on Alton and a steep increase in rent. For more than 25 years, healthcare agency Care Resource has operated the shop to raise money for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment, as well as offering testing and trans-needs counseling.
Care Resource spokesman Jonathan Welsh said the decision did not come lightly.
“This is something we didn’t want to do,” he said. “The general business decline, mixed with steep rent increases in that area, literally make it impossible to keep the store open.”
The store, open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, started its liquidation sale last week by taking 75 percent off all women’s clothing. Starting Monday, all men’s clothing will be 75 percent off. Next week, all items will be marked down 75 percent. The store will stop accepting donations Jan. 2.
Last week, store regulars learned the news as they came in on their routine searches for shopping deals. Amid the old electronics, men’s blazers and women’s fashion, near the wall of shoes in all colors, sizes and types, by shelves stuffed with records and books, they lamented the end of their local hangout.
“It’s very welcoming,” said Jose Lebron, a daily visitor perusing the books. “The employees are very dedicated. They are like friends. It’s like a family.”
Agueda Adames, a Beach resident of 20 years, said the store not only puts its proceeds to good use, but it serves low-income customers looking for bargains.
“I’ll miss it. It’s a shame,” she said. “I pass by all the time — it’s like passing by mom’s house to say hello.”
The thrift store felt the squeeze after construction on Alton Road tore up the street for months. The project along this stretch is coming to an end, but, combined with rent increases that can be seen across Miami Beach, it’s too late for SoBe Thrifty.
Michael Gorey, president of the Alton Road Business Association, said that as rents continue to climb across the Beach, other businesses are feeling it. Higher rent is also forcing out Staples from the Shops at Fifth & Alton.
The goal for all businesses on Alton, he said, is to bring back the customers who didn’t want to deal with the construction headaches.
“Our focus is on winning back customers that have left because of the construction,” he said.
At SoBe Thrifty last week, Vellón ran the register and cheerfully greeted customers. She said Care Resource has been good to the employees by keeping them in loop as the agency tried to negotiate with the landlord for lower rent.
Vellón, a 14-year employee, said Care Resource has promised to help workers find other positions within the agency.
“These employees will be leaving with their heads held high,” she said. “I’m very proud of the company.”
As a man finished paying for his clothes, he fist bumped with Vellón on his way out.
“Paisana, take care of yourself,” he said.
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