Goodwill opens two San Jose stores to walk-in customers
San Jose resident Jayme Song shopped at Willow Glen's Goodwill on Tuesday. Song said she prefers an in-person shopping experience to online and says she feels safe in the store. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

With added safety measures in place such as required face coverings and daily employee temperature checks, Goodwill of Silicon Valley is now letting customers inside two of its San Jose stores.

The nonprofit thrift store chain, which includes 18 stores in the Silicon Valley region, opened its Willow Glen and Alum Rock locations earlier this month. A third store in Hollister opened last week after San Benito County lifted its retail restrictions, said Mike Fox, president and CEO of Goodwill of Silicon Valley.

Although the state recently permitted in-store retail shopping, Santa Clara County still only allows non-essential retail stores to sell via curbside pick-ups. But Fox said his retail stores are qualified as “essential” because of their function as a recycler and a provider of low-cost items that are considered essential.

“We’re providing necessities for people on the lower-economic income scale,” Fox told San José Spotlight. “People who don’t have the wealth that other people in the county do.”

On Friday, Salvation Army joined Goodwill in opening its San Jose store on Taylor Street.

To keep shoppers and employees safe, Salvation Army customers will be asked to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a cloth face covering. Fitting rooms will be closed, and the store will limit the number of shoppers inside. 

Sales from the store support the nonprofit’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, which officials say have been without funding for more than eight weeks.

“This is a big day for us. We’ve been looking forward to reopening our family thrift store, even at limited capacity, as we know our donors and customers alike are anxious to support us,” said Major Williams, administrator for business of the Salvation Army San Jose Adult Rehabilitation Center, in a statement.

Since Santa Clara County doesn’t allow retailers to fully open, Fox said his organization put itself in compliance of the most recent order by devoting 25 percent of the floor space at the two Goodwill stores in San Jose for items that are considered “essential goods.” This includes items such as chips and candy, water, soft drinks, soaps and lightbulbs. The stores also carry hand sanitizer and masks.

While the order doesn’t contain criteria that 25 percent of the items must be essential for a retailer to reopen, Fox says the county gave him that guidance.

To ward against spreading the coronavirus, Goodwill is limiting the number of customers in the store and requiring everyone to wear face coverings.

In addition, Fox said, employees’ temperatures are taken each day before they come into work. Employees are also required to regularly review a list of potential COVID-19 symptoms and report if they are experiencing any of them.

“What we’re asking them to do is, if they have one of the symptoms, to let us know,” Fox said. “It’s really just a reminder.”

The entrance to the Goodwill in Willow Glen is covered with signs asking customers to abide by a variety of rules to keep themselves and others safe inside the store. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Inside the store, floor markings note where customers should stand in line to maintain 6 feet of distance at checkout while one-way traffic stickers in the aisles aim to prevent overcrowding. Plexiglass barriers help prevent the potential spread of the virus between cashiers and customers and dressing rooms are closed.

Fox says the curbside model wouldn’t work for Goodwill stores since many of their customers don’t have internet access. The stores are stocked with tens of thousands of one-of-a-kind items donated from the community, he added, which provides further complications compared to a traditional store which stocks several items of one kind.

The store takes precautions with its donations by asking residents to sort their items into piles. The items are taken into storage and clothing isn’t touched for at least three days, Fox says, while non-clothing items are left alone for five days. This is based on his research of how long the virus lives on various materials.

Fox said merchandise on the shelves is older than that because the stores have been inundated with donations recently.

“The product going out there is probably more like 45 days old,” Fox said.

Shoppers at the Willow Glen Goodwill store on Tuesday morning said they felt safe at the store and were glad to have an opportunity to shop again — after more than two months of being in quarantine under the county’s shelter-in-place order that shuttered retailers, restaurants, offices and construction sites.

“Part of the shopping experience is going inside the store and seeing things,” said San Jose resident Jayme Song.

Willow Glen resident Ibel Barrera agrees.

“I like to see everything,” she said.

Another shopper, who asked to remain anonymous, said most other customers did their best to maintain distance and wearing their masks correctly. He occasionally spotted people with their masks dropped below their noses, but acknowledged the store is doing what it can to ensure a safe environment.

“You can’t babysit everyone,” he said. “You can only do so much.”

As more counties begin lifting their retail restrictions, Fox said the reopening of thrift stores could help relieve a backlog of donated items accumulated during the stay-home orders.

“Our biggest problem is we’re getting all these donations,” Fox said. “We’re just piling up and I don’t know how much longer we can go. We might have to close donation sites.”

Fox plans to reopen the Palo Alto and Gilroy stores Friday but has no immediate plans to reopen other locations. The Alum Rock and Willow Glen stores were chosen first based on a variety of factors, Fox said, including a higher volume of customers and lower-income residents.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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