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The Pipeline

The Ark Thrift Store to Close, Ending Long Chapter of Finding Treasures, Affordable Housewares & Clothes

The Ark at 1302 N. Milwaukee Ave. [Block Club Chi/Alisa Hauser]

WICKER PARK — The Ark Thrift Store is closing at the end of June because its lease is up and profits have declined to the point where running a resale shop is no longer a sustainable business model, ownership said on Friday.

Marc Swatez, executive director of The ARK, a West Rogers Park-based social service agency that has long operated the Wicker Park thrift store at 1302 N. Milwaukee Ave., confirmed the impending retail closure.

Nine full-time workers will be laid off and there are no plans to relocate the store, which Swatez described as “a social enterprise set up to support the work of The Ark.”

“It is devastating to us that we have to close The Ark store because these workers are our family. We have offered to work with all the employees who will be let go. They can use our services as much as they need to… Most of these folks have been employees for 5 or 10 years,” Swatez said.

Founded in 1971, The Ark is a social service agency and employs 50 people. Swatez wanted to emphasize that The Ark continues its mission of serving more than 4,500 needy people each year, providing counseling, access to a food pantry, legal services, a homeless shelter and a free pharmacy.

“There was a time when [the store] made up a significant portion of our revenue. The reality is that for many years it has not been a significant portion of our revenue. Even though we don’t pay for any of the [donated] things we sell, we are still losing money every month,” he said.

Swatez said that it was not the landlord’s fault that The Ark is closing, but he did acknowledge that there would have been a rent increase if they had renewed the store’s lease expiring at the end of June.

“The sign on the door says ‘we lost our lease,’ but we could have renewed it. Rent always goes up. We had two great landlords and we don’t want to throw them under the bus. They were great and offered to work with us but it is very difficult these days to make a profit as a thrift store,” he said.

Ina Winer and Pastor Estrada, longtime workers at The Ark. [Block Club Chicago/Alisa Hauser]

At the store on Friday, Ina Winer, an employee of The Ark since 1992 and a familiar face behind the counter, said that the regular customers are taking the closure very hard.

“The customers are so upset. Some have been coming here for years, and they wait for the truck to see [what the new goods coming in are]. I will miss everybody, the people, the workers. We are like a family,” Winer said.

Winer is 92 and works full-time at The Ark.

She does not wish to retire after The Ark closes.

“I’ll find a job, even if it has to be a volunteer one somewhere. I like to keep busy, stay active,” she said.

Alma Wieser, owner of Wicker Park’s Heaven Gallery, said she was shopping at The Ark on Thursday when she learned from longtime workers that it would be closing.

“The Ark closing is another move toward inequality. Our Latinx community and people with little disposable income could go there and buy affordable goods. I bought the most beautiful things there. Today, myself and another regular were saying how what we had on was all from The Ark. Now, it will just be another empty storefront to add to the pile,” Wieser said.

Wieser also put up a post about The Ark on the gallery’s Instagram. “Affordability and community is disappearing,” she wrote.

China for sale at The Ark.
Looking into the bargain basement.
Pianos for sale.



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Alisa Hauser

Alisa Hauser

Portlander since December 2018. Former Block Club, DNAinfo and Chicago Pipeline reporter.