It was a model that seemed to fit the disparate values of New Paltz residents: a dollar store run specifically to provide jobs for disabled individuals who often struggle to find employment, despite being qualified. It addresses both cost-conscious concerns and the desire to help people with a disadvantage to get a leg up. Unfortunately, Just-a-Buck has resulted in a loss on the books of Ulster-Greene ARC ever since it was opened in 2014, and that’s a loss which has been determined not sustainable. The franchise agreement has been terminated, and the store was slated to be closed as of March 31. The sad news has hit employees and regular customers hard, and community members are now rallying to save the shop, but it appears it’s too late to revisit the decision. As jarring as the change may be, ARC officials are confirming that other job-training programs will continue, as that’s central to the organization’s mission.
The sign outside the store had a simple message this week: “Sadly the rumors are true, we are closing.” The dozen or so customers roaming the aisles searching for bargains for perhaps the last time may have carried themselves with a little less pep in their step than normal, despite the fact that employees are continuing to show the level of welcoming optimism which has come to characterize the place.
“We are all very upset,” said Wendy Axel, a customer for nearly the entire run of the store.
“It’s the best store in town,” said Paula Weinstein. “Everybody goes here and loves it, plus they hire the disabled.” Altogether, that makes the announced closure “a real loss” to the community. The only drawback to Just-a-Buck in her mind is the reconfigured layout of the parking lot, which she said was “really messed up.” While none of the customers were asked about parking, several raised the issue of their own accord.
Customer Sue Cox is, coincidentally, also an Ulster-Greene ARC employee. “It’s a shame,” she said of the decision, because of the work skills taught to employees, and because it’s a place to get items of “pretty good quality” and in a wide selection. She termed it a “true dollar store,” in that every item is priced at a dollar, which she said isn’t the case at similar businesses in New Paltz. She added, “The parking lot messed up a lot of things.”
Manager Krissy Vangor said that overall, costs of doing business have been on the rise. “It’s more than just rent,” she said; rising wages and the self-imposed profit limit of remaining a “true dollar store” have simply made it impossible to post a profit, and ARC leaders decided there are more cost-effective ways to deliver job training.
Vangor’s regret is that community members hadn’t had the occasion to express their support earlier. She’d heard rumors of a possible closure for some time, but word didn’t leak from within the organization. Had it, Vangor muses, perhaps the rally to save the store might have had an opportunity to gain traction before it was too late. Nevertheless, “I love how supportive they’ve been.” It’s a welcoming reflection of how Vangor and her employees feel about the store, which she said for her is a “second home,” in which everyone on the staff is considered family. “I can’t thank people enough for trying to save us.”
Josh Shaw was one of the store’s first employees, and said he’s sad to see it close. “The customers are nice,” and he said. “I like my job.”
Unemployment rates for people with disabilities is higher than for the general population. In 2018, eight percent of disabled persons seeking work were unemployed, while the rate was less than four percent overall. Lori McCabe, communications director at Ulster-Greene ARC, said that while there’s a plan in place to keep all these workers employed, she’d like to see the swell of support translate into more New Paltz business owners hiring employees with disabilities. There are already partnerships in place with SUNY Ulster and New Paltz, Hannaford, and other businesses, but “we serve 1,300 individuals” who are largely able to work and just need a chance to prove it. “They come to work with a smile on their face, they work hard, and it’s a win for both them and the business owners,” she said.
Even with the Just-a-Buck franchise being closed, there are also other job sites run through the ARC, including plant care and cleaning services.
Cutting the ribbon when the store opened was Catherine Court, and she was expecting to be on hand for the final day as well. “I’m very sad,” she said. “It stinks.” She spoke about how everyone from her bosses and job coach to coworkers and customers had a way of making her happy if she was ever “down in the dumps.” Tears in her eyes, she said of the farewell party scheduled for Sunday, “It’s gonna be a sad one.”