If real estate is all about “location, location, location,” then the folks at Salt & Light Ministries would make excellent realtors.
Salt & Light last month had the grand opening for its new Urbana location (1819 Philo Road), which seems like an ideal building (the former County Market) and geographic footprint for its expansion.
“Ideal building, ideal location,” said executive director Nathan Montgomery. “What most businesses would look for is not necessarily ideal for us. We very much want to be near or in a residential area but in particular an area that is in proximity to low-income residents.”
When County Market announced its closing, Montgomery called its parent company within 48 hours. The plan was to expand into Urbana with far greater space for its grocery and thrift operations; the Urbana store has 57,000 square feet while Champaign is 9,000.
“It is the natural evolution of what we started in Champaign. We knew when we started Champaign that for long term sustainability and growth, the grocery in particular was going to have to expand,” Montgomery said.
Salt & Light provides store credit to those who work at Salt & Light or any other Champaign County nonprofit. In 2016 that credit amounted to about $250,000, of which 70 percent was spent in the grocery. “So there’s a cost there that we have to cover,” Montgomery said.
As Salt & Light has grown, its model has changed. Once entirely donation-based, it now has a much larger budget and its workforce has grown from 4 to 41. Last year about 70 percent of its funding came from program revenue, i.e., people shopping. With the Urbana location coming online, that figure should move up to 90 percent, Montgomery said. And that means Salt & Light is becoming an example to other nonprofits regarding long-term sustainability.
“The grocery (in Champaign), people weren’t really coming there to make cash purchases. It was nowhere near self sustaining,” he said. “(In Urbana) people will see it as a destination grocery-shopping experience. So we expect a larger volume of cash shoppers, so now the margin on those dollars can actually fund the store credit and the operations of the store.”
With so much more space, the grocery store’s offerings are far greater. Additionally, a coffee shop will come online by the end of the first quarter. A child care area, “very similar to the child watch area at the YMCA,” will be available for those who are working in the building or taking advantage of educational programs. There’s a computer lab, two large classrooms for the aforementioned programs, four smaller meeting rooms, and a 7,000-square foot space for “for partnership and collaboration with other nonprofits,” Montgomery said. “What we hope for is for other nonprofits who work for the same population as we do to relocate some or all of their programming into this space. Ideally we would house three to five nonprofits in here.”
Donors can drop off items at both locations; the Urbana store has a covered drive-through. Here’s a list of items the thrift store accepts.
And if you happen to live in Champaign, be patient. A larger Salt & Light might be headed toward you, too, at some point.
“Our vision is to relocate Champaign (currently at 1512 W. Anthony Drive) and do something of a similar scale,” Montgomery said.