Will Sewanee’s Legendary Hospitality Shop Close?

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

For more than 60 years the Hospitality Shop has been a Sewanee fixture, although its role has shifted to accommodate changing times. But now, changing times may force the Hospitality Shop to shutter the doors.

The Hospitality Shop had it origins in the Emerald-Hodgins Auxiliary, said Board Chair Julia Bates. “The auxiliary was a group of women who wanted to support the community and focused on Emerald-Hodgson Hospital where they were having their babies.” The women served as Candy Stripers and served meals in the basement of Thompson Union to raise money, as a sideline operating a thrift store. Revenue went toward scholarships for high school seniors pursuing a medical career. The Auxiliary also gave “tens of thousands of dollars” to purchase equipment for the hospital, rescue squad, and fire department, Bates said. When the hospital became a for-profit entity, the Auxiliary decide to focus on providing scholarships, rather than assisting the hospital. In the early 1970s, the Hospitality Shop moved to the “yellow house” on University Avenue. The Auxiliary continued to serve meals until 2006, but energy increasingly turned toward operating the thrift store.

Now, two difficult, possibly insurmountable challenges confront the Hospitality Shop. One, the building rental contract has expired and the building needs an estimated $100,000 in repairs. “We were not told to evict,” said Bates, “but the contract needs to be renegotiated.” Under a “gentleman’s understanding,” the Hospitality Shop pays no rent, and it was “assumed” the Auxiliary would fund interior repairs. Three years ago, though, the Auxiliary reimbursed the University for putting on a new roof. “That seems to be the model,” Bates said. The University has offered to make the needed repairs on the condition the Auxiliary reimburses them.

The second challenge, lack of volunteers, exacerbates the repair issue. The drop off bins for clothes and housewares fill up twice daily, requiring unloading, sorting, and labeling, far more work than two part-time employees can handle. The volunteer staff of eight, all but one over 70 years old, invests inordinate amounts of time and energy to keep the thrift store open.

Bates estimates it will take eight to 10 years to repay the University for repairs. “Do we want to commit to paying back $100,000?” Bates said. “In eight to 10 years, most of us won’t be on the board and able to volunteer.” Equally concerning is whether it is wise to commit to paying back $100,000 when the University rental contract policy limits renters to a 3-year lease. The Hospitality Shop has a small savings that might pay 20 percent of the loan, but the money is earmarked for scholarships, Bates stressed. The Hospitality Shop gave two $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors this year, one from Franklin County and one from Grundy County.

“We could close the shop and continue to give scholarships for 10 years,” Bates said. “By then we would all be in our 80s or 90s.”

Looking to solutions, Bates hopes to attract three to five volunteers willing to commit to working one day a week and to compile a list of substitute volunteers to work during high volume times or when regular volunteers need time off. A Bonner and a Canale scholar help with social media and enlisting sorority and fraternity volunteers to work a few hours on Saturdays. Bates would like to see professors encourage students to take on the Hospitality Shop as an academic project, bringing more “entrepreneur interns” into the fold.

The Hospitality Shop has been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit since the 1970s. Bates cites the mantra of nonprofits: “Give us your time, your talent and your treasures.” “My focus isn’t treasures,” Bates said. “Give us your talent and your time.” The Hospitality Shop promotes “sustainable energy by encouraging recycling and by giving those with less means access to resources,” Bates insisted. “You’re contributing to the community when you volunteer.”

The Hospitality Shop will have a luncheon to gather community input on what direction to take at noon, Friday, July 8, in Kennerly Hall at the parish of St. Mark and St. Paul. Please follow the link <https://www.eventbrite.com/e/3...; to RSVP for chicken salad and iced tea, followed by cake and a discussion of what comes next for the Shop. You may also email Paula Yeatman at <paulayeatman033@gmail.com>. Donations to cover the cost of the meal can be left at the door.

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