AUGUSTA — Three-year-old Lacasia Bynum was in her grandmother’s Goodwill cart, picking out toys while looking chic in a plaid coat.
Lacasia was more excited about the toys that filled the cart’s bottom but her grandmother said you couldn’t beat the price of that coat: $3 from an earlier trip to the store.
“We don’t care about the name brand. We just go with what’s cute,” said grandmother Brenda Thibeault of Augusta. “As long as it looks good on her, that’s all that counts.”
That story’s not much different from those of other bargain-hunters shopping on a rainy Saturday at the new Goodwill store at 5 Senator Way, off Western Avenue, between an under-construction branch of Bangor Savings Bank and Target.
Goodwill’s new store is bigger, more prominent and better-stocked than its previous location, farther east on Western Avenue at the Augusta Plaza near Kmart.
The new store opened Sept. 13, and reviews are good, from the company and its shoppers.
“It’s a new store. Our regular customers are checking it out; new customers are checking it out, so it’s been a pretty busy week,” said Goodwill spokeswoman Michelle Smith. “We have great support from the Augusta community in terms of donations and in terms of shoppers.”
The company has said the location is employing approximately 70 people — 40 more than the old location — in part-time and full-time positions. Smith cited the store’s location, increased size and donation drive-through as highlights of the upgrade.
That donation drive-through is a key component of the store’s business model. Goodwill Industries International largely leans on selling donated items to fund programs aimed at the not-for-profit company’s overarching mission: getting unemployed people back to work. In Maine, Goodwill operates two facilities in Lewiston and Portland, assisting those with brain injuries, according to its website.
Goodwill has found the number of donations go up when the drive-through feature is included, Smith said. In the Augusta old store, large donations had to be taken to the back side of the strip mall location.
“You had to go way out back,” said Ella Plaisted, a shopper at the store Saturday from Belgrade who said she also donates often. “(Now) it’s a shop-and-drop or a drop-and-shop.”
Plaisted, who said she’s often at Goodwill shopping for brand-name clothing, noticed the difference in quantity of items at the new store. Some of the more memorable items there Saturday included Nike high-top sneakers for a baby, a turtle-shaped sandbox and a leaf mulcher.
But sometimes shopping is more mundane.
Donna Kenney of Augusta said she was back at the store for the second time in two days. On Saturday, she was wearing a sweater she picked up Friday. But on this day, she wanted a box to stash items in after cleaning her back porch.
Her big find: a $3, clear tote with an old price tag on it for over $11.
“Three dollars,” marveled Gary Hewitt of Augusta, shopping with her. “Can’t beat that.”
You could say Goodwill is somewhat more than recession-proof. When the economic downturn of 2008 hit, Smith said the number of Goodwill shoppers went up.
“We did see more people coming to our stores,” she said, “whether it’s people who came a few times that started coming more frequently, or people that never shopped at our stores kind of checking it out.”
On Saturday, the store was so busy that Kenney ended up running into her sister: an unplanned outing for a bargain-hunting family.
“We’re all looking out for good deals,” she said.
“You have to today,” Hewitt said.
Michael Shepherd — 621-5632