Goodwill's grand opening on Thursday surprised nearly everyone, as hundreds of shoppers flocked to the store to be among the first to explore the 20,000 square foot retail and job connection center space.
"It's absolutely amazing," said Jan Bass, a Richmond Hill City Council member who also works as a marketing director for Goodwill. “I was told people would be lined up all the way around the corner of the building and I didn’t believe it. But they are.”
Yet the turnout, estimated to be in the hundreds early on and steady all day, didn't surprise everyone Richmond Hill resident Mia Williams said she expected more people.
“I expected a lot worse,” she said, estimating that at least 400 shoppers had shown up. “And they’re still coming in.”
The event got under way Wednesday night with a reception for local dignitaries.
President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire Mohsen Badran welcomed everyone to the newest retail location and said Goodwill is excited to be in the community.
“We are here in this community and very proud to be here not just for the retail end of it but we want to be part of the solution to issues in this community—specifically the unemployment issues,” Badran said Wednesday. “So we built that career center upstairs for when people come in from the community and we’re hoping this will add to the efforts from the mayor and city government to improve the issues in this community.”
John Reynolds, chairman of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce said during Wednesday’s celebration he was impressed with Goodwill’s efforts in helping those with disabilities.
“Not only did you fill a space here that we were burdened with trying to infill it, but your plan of working people with disabilities and the whole mission of Goodwill is really what Richmond Hill is all about,” Reynolds said.
Thursday started early. Richmond HIll-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brianne Yontz said she heard people were lined up as early as 6 a.m.
Badran said Thursday he’s been to a number of store openings—including ones in New York and New Jersey—and the turnout in Richmond Hill Thursday morning was larger than any he’s seen.
“This is unbelievable,” Badran said. “In comparison to any locations I’ve seen…this is the biggest in terms of the number of people who are here.."
Mayor Harold Fowler, on hand to cut the ribbon, said Goodwill was welcome not only because of its mission to help people find work, but also because of its impact as a business.
“I think it’s a great organization to have in the city—and maybe it sends a message that we need more businesses here,” he said. “I think it’s a good sign of things to come in Richmond Hill.”
Williams said she's glad Goodwill is finally here.
“This is my hobby, shopping at Goodwill,” she said. “You get really good deals without paying whole lot of money. That’s why I’m coming out here today, because there is finally one in Richmond Hill. They promised us one a few years back but it didn’t happen. Now that we’ve finally gotten one, I’m excited.”
In addition to retail shopping, Richmond Hill’s Goodwill location offers a career center where job-seekers have free access to resources like computers, a phone bank, printer, copier and help with interviewing skills and resume writing.
John Reid and Christopher Pooler were among the first to show up at the career center, which had attracted perhaps 15-20 people by 11 a.m. Both Reid and Pooler were there to get help obtaining their GED and work.
Both are unemployed thanks to the economy, they said. Reid was a pool installer, and worked as a maintenance man at an RV park in Chatham County.
Pooler said he last worked at McDonalds, “and anything I can get.”
Pooler said he wants to start his own company, and Reid said he hopes to gain new skills for future work.
“I have a skill already, but I want to broaden my horizons,” Reid said. “You’ve got to have multiples these days or it’s tough to stay employed.”
The center has 20 computers with internet access and there are plans to offer GED classes and more in the works.
Goodwill offers a number of job and educational prorams and everything is free, according to Careeer Center manager Michael Whitfield.
Goodwill in Richmond Hill is open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and the career center is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. , Monday through Friday.
For more information visit goodwillsavannah.org.