Library vs. Family Thrift Store

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Written by Andrew Garvie

February 17th marked an unusually lively city council meeting where the designs for the new library and Baker Street development were approved. The plan will include a three story, 90 000 square-foot library and 400 public parking spaces. 55.5 million dollars has been approved for the project which has been being discussed for nine years.

Although the vote was 10-2 in favor of the proposal, dissident voices from the gallery were less convinced of the benefits of the design. Not included in dollars-and-cents price tag is the unknown cost to the community of eliminating four properties on Wyndham Street. The main controversy has grown around the case of the Family Thrift Store, which is slated for "collateral damage" status under the plan for the new library. Many community members see the store, run by Ray Mitchell for sixteen years, as a unique and irreplaceable fixture of the downtown core. The store provides affordable second-hand clothing to low-income Guelph residents and also supports a number of local charitable organizations. "I am also concerned for the people who use me, for necessities because they are going to have to buy brand new at Walmart and they can't afford that," Mitchell recently told CKCO news.

Ray Mitchell also rents a neighbouring space where he has attempted to foster local artistic talent. This space has five studios that local artists use for free. But it is the contents of the Family Thrift Store that stand out the most. Based on the premise that "one person's garbage is another person's treasure," purchases at Mitchell's store are definitely one of a kind. Scott Tracey, a columnist for the Guelph Mercury, wrote an excellent article describing the adventure that accompanies a trip to the Family Thrift Store:

"I know there are other places downtown where I can buy used CDs. But is there anywhere else downtown -- hell, anywhere else in the entire province -- where I could also buy two dozen plaster casts of strangers' mouths and a birdhouse shaped like a church, complete with a cross and eight tiny pews?"

In a small victory from last Tuesday's meeting, there was a commitment made to help Ray Mitchell find a new location, although there was no timeline set for staff to make the necessary arrangements.

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