Vestry Corner
Church of the Holy Comforter, Vienna, VA
July 12, 2019
Holy Comforter’s Pennywise Thrift Shop
at a Critical Juncture
You may have heard on Sunday that we have added a prayer for Pennywise to our prayers of the people. As many of you know, Pennywise has been closed since the fire on January 24. As some of you know, our continued occupancy in Bouton Hall is in doubt as the Town of Vienna is in negotiations with the Concord Masonic Lodge (the owner of the building) to buy them out and restore the building. The Pennywise Board has been in discussions with the Masons regarding staying in Bouton Hall, but has also been actively looking for another location to carry on its important mission should the Town of Vienna prevail.

In 2017, discussions between the Masons and the Town of Vienna were initiated because of a proposal by an independent developer to remove Bouton Hall and redevelop the site. The Town, concerned about the loss of an historic building, subsequently added a provision in the 2019 Capital Improvement Plan for $2,000,000 to acquire it. Conversations between the Masons and the Town have continued. In order to buy the building, the Town would have to have a public use for the building and since the Masons plan to stay, we would be the ones left out in the cold.

Lillian Croy, with the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) of Holy Comforter, started Pennywise Thrift Shop 57 years ago and the Church of the Holy Comforter has faithfully supported it since then. To this day, Pennywise is solely operated by Holy Comforter parishioners and remains an entirely volunteer operation, including leadership and labor. 

Pennywise and ECW leaders—with the active support of your Vestry—have been actively looking for potential new locations. So far, available and affordable space in Vienna has not been found. The Pennywise and ECW boards would like to stay in Vienna because of the strong ties with the community. Many of you have ties to the community and may become aware of potential retail spaces suitable for Pennywise. Any information about any sites would be appreciated. Please contact Jim Menke or Mary Coulombe.

The closure of Pennywise has created a void in services to the broader community. The closure has been keenly felt by our long-term customers—many depend on the store to provide clothes, books, housewares and more at below market rates. I was in Bouton Hall when Pennywise was returning items to our consigners and it was heartbreaking to turn the needy families away who saw the doors open.

The continued closure of Pennywise also leaves a gap in the lives of our dedicated volunteers. It was great to see all the many Pennywise volunteers gathered in the Ministry Center last week for a luncheon celebrating the ministry. I cannot wait to see them back to work!

The income produced by Pennywise has been substantial over the years. The shop has collected an average of about $138,000 a year, but income can vary from year to year. This income pays rent, maintenance, and utilities and the profit is used for contributions to mission activities inside the church, including a church pledge, and local and international charities. In 2018/2019, actual church contributions were about $48,000, local charity contributions $12,800, and international contributions $6,500. 

The Pennywise budget for 2019/2020 is significantly lower on account of the closure. Income from the 2018/2019 fiscal year will be spread across the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 budget years due to the uncertainty of the Pennywise startup date. There is strong hope that the reduction in funding will be for only one year and as Pennywise resumes business, income levels will be restored.

There are many uncertainties for the future of Pennywise. Because of the needed building repairs and potential improvements, there is no definite timeline for reopening the shop. If the building is sold to the Town of Vienna, Pennywise will have to relocate. If the town does not buy Bouton Hall, Pennywise could remain in the building. 

Pennywise is a vital part of the Church of the Holy Comforter. The Vestry, ECW, and Pennywise are committed to continuing its important ministry. We ask for the continued support and prayers for the Pennywise ministry and the resumption of business.
Kip and John