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Workers stand on scaffolding June 16 at the former Black Bridge Bowl on Black Bridge Road just west of Milton Avenue. Crews are renovating the inside and outside of the building for new tenants, including the future GIFTS Thrift Store, a resale shop GIFTS Men’s Shelter plans to open in October. The shop is intended to help GIFTS pay for and expand its services to homeless clients.

JANESVILLE

Four years after Black Bridge Bowl closed its doors, the former bowling alley will make its return—not as bowling lanes but as a new resale shop that will be run by GIFTS Men’s Shelter.

Dave Ellis, longtime GIFTS coordinator and board member, said renovation of the former bowling alley at 1141 Black Bridge Road is ongoing, but he expects the 10,000-square-foot GIFTS Thrift Store to open in October.

Ellis said the shop will be an industrial-chic, “upscale” consignment place where donated clothing and other items are resold and the proceeds used to support programs at the homeless men’s shelter at 1025 N. Washington St.

When the shop opens, people might notice a vestige of the building’s past.

“We’re reusing the wood approaches to the old bowling lanes, which is the same wood as what was used in the (bowling) alleys,” Ellis said. “We’ll cut up all that wood and use it to make the store’s counter and the shelving along the walls and in the dressing rooms.

“We wanted to keep part of that nostalgia for the people who knew it used to be a bowling alley.”

Black Bridge Bowl closed in July 2016 and has been vacant since, although the building’s owner, Kevin Hendricks, has worked on deals to put the building back in use.

Ellis said GIFTS will lease an L-shaped space that Hendricks is paying to renovate. Another smaller portion of the building will become the new home of a Veterans Administration clinic.

The thrift store is the result of two years of planning by GIFTS and research by Ellis, who will manage the store. Ellis said the store will operate under a simple motto that will be emblazoned on its exterior sign: “Shop. Donate. Volunteer.”

It’s part of a new era for GIFTS.

Last week, the nonprofit announced the hiring of a new director, inner-city homeless shelter manager John Koesema of Dallas, who in July will replace outgoing Executive Director Stephanie Burton.

GIFTS also is looking to build new revenue streams that will help the Christian faith-oriented agency grow its programs and services. It currently offers a 24-hour shelter and day center that can help about 25 men recover from homelessness. Programs include counseling, job placement and a transitional living program.

Last week, board President Matt Prestil said the shelter is looking at a possible expansion that might include services for homeless women or families.

Ellis said the words “GIFTS Thrift Store” will appear on the store’s sign inside a stylized outline of a price tag. The design, he believes, will help people understand it’s a resale shop and underscore the reality of GIFTS’ mission with the homeless population: It costs money.

“We realized a long time ago that as our ministry grows and we move toward more services for the guys, it comes with more employees and more programming. Which all costs money,” Ellis said. “We are almost 100% run on donations. So that’s why our number one goal here was for a new revenue stream to help our ministry.”

Ellis said GIFTS clients will work at the store, taking donations and helping with donation processing and warehousing operations.

GIFTS hasn’t formally solicited donations yet, but volunteers and clients already have begun sorting and storing dozens of bags of items donated by people who have learned about the resale shop.

The nonprofit has always operated on volunteer labor, mainly members of a core of local churches that have partnered with GIFTS over its 12-year history. Ellis said he and an assistant will run operations at the resale shop, but it will rely on volunteer help, too.

GIFTS tries to protect the privacy of its clients, so it doesn’t give the public free access to its homeless shelter or clients. Ellis said that among other benefits, the resale shop will give the public a better understanding of what GIFTS does for the homeless population—and even allow customers and clients to meet each other.

“Maybe the most important reason we wanted this store is because we can tell our story to so many more people than just the local church volunteers that have helped at the shelter,” Ellis said.

“There’s tons of people that say, ‘GIFTS Men’s Shelter? What’s that?’ They don’t even know what it is yet. We’ve been here for more than 10 years. So this way, we plan on sharing our story.”

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