With oversized scissors and a big red ribbon, AIDS Healthcare Foundation opened its first thrift store in Atlanta on Saturday and launched a facility that also offers free HIV tests and a pharmacy.
The 6,100-square-foot Out of the Closet Thrift Store renovated a building that was once home to one of the first Harley-Davidson dealerships in the 1950s. In recent years, the building at 1858 Cheshire Bridge Road has housed an auto parts store and pawn shop.
Now, the once nondescript building is hard to miss. The exterior is bright pink with window displays that rival those of department stores. Inside is a bright facility with racks of clothes, shoes and merchandise between private testing rooms on one side and a pharmacy on the other.
Sales at the store help raise funds for the operations of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which in June 2015 "joined forces" with AID Atlanta and now operates the HIV organization as an affiliate.
"Our new store will contribute to ending the HIV epidemic by building community, increasing access to HIV testing, linking people who are positive into healthcare, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV," Michael Kahane, AHF's Southern bureau chief, said in a prepared statement.
"Since 96 cents of every dollar raised goes toward supporting our HIV/AIDS clinics and service in Georgia and around the world that provide specialized care regardless of ability to pay, Out of the Closet will empower every member of the community to be part of the fight to overcome HIV/AIDS,” Kahane added.
The Out of the Closet opening raised concerns from some supporters of Lost N Found Youth, which cares for homeless LGBT youth in Atlanta. The new thrift store is just a few blocks from the massive LNF thrift operation that helps fund that organization’s work.
On Saturday, a handful of the Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – a group that helped launch Lost N Found in 2011 – distributed fliers on a sidewalk in front of the store. The document included eight criticisms explaining why the Atlanta Sisters “do not support AHF or AID Atlanta”:
• Waste non-profit money – spent on frivolous lawsuits around the adult entertainment industry regarding condom use in adult films
• Litigious lawsuits in multiple states where they run health centers fighting for more unfair ways to gain federal AIDS funding
• Spent more funds on a recent lawsuit to fight for the “view” from their offices so a nearby development could not be built
• Anti-Union practices – AHF medical doctors were over worked and understaffed in 2013 so much that they felt the quality of patient care was being ignored. The workers tried to join the union, and AHF President Michael Weinstein blocked their effort by listing them as management4
• Anti-PrEP campaigns – listing prevention method Truvada as a “party drug” in a national campaign and refusing to embrace science-driven proof to the contrary
• Overbilling Federal AIDS funds in Los Angeles resulting in a loss of over $7 million of public health funds
• Creating fear based campaigns that result in further community stigma
• Added a new thrift store within a mile of an established LGBT nonprofit thrift store as competition #NOtoOutOfTheCloset
The Sisters met with Imara Canady, the regional communications director for AHF’s Southern bureau, and AID Atlanta Executive Director Nicole Roebuck.
Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told Project Q Atlanta that when he selected the location he was unaware that Lost N Found operated a thrift store nearby. Out of the Closet sits near several antique stores and at least one other thrift store, which Weinstein said makes it more convenient for customers who can visit an area with several outlets to shop in.
"I don't think it will hurt. I don't see why it would hurt the other thrift store," Weinstein said.
Weinstein added that in cities, like Fort Lauderdale, where an Out of the Closet is located near another thrift store, both outlets thrive. AHF operates 22 Out of the Closet locations in California, Florida, Ohio, New York, Texas and Washington. The store on Cheshire Bridge is AHF's first in Georgia.
The proximity of Out of the Closet and LNF's thrift store may open the door to working together, conducting joint promotions and AHF donating surplus donations to Lost N Found, Weinstein said.
"We would love to do anything to contribute to Lost N Found," he said. "There needs to be a space where we can dialogue, and where we can agree to disagree without disrespecting each other. I hope that space is opened up."