'We have to know what’s happening': Get Thrifty enters ninth month of waiting on the AMS to begin expansion construction

On-campus thrift store Get Thrifty has been waiting for the AMS to let it begin construction on an expansion since late August 2020. Nine months later, the store is still waiting.

The thrift store got approval from the AMS Finance Committee in August to expand behind its storefront in the Life Building to allow for more storage space, but that's the same space that the AMS wants to use to renovate the Norm Theatre. The student society has been exploring building a second floor in the space — leaving the first floor to Get Thrifty.

The AMS has been conducting a feasibility report on the project — a report that was supposed to be completed “way in advance of January 2021,” according to former VP Admin Sylvester Mensah Jr.

“The initial hope was to get [the report] done quicker,” said AMS President Cole Evans in May 2021. “But of course, with everything else this year [it's] moving slower than anticipated.” The primary reason for the delays was issues with finalizing funding transfers, Evans said.

Once the feasibility report is done, Evans said the AMS will need a couple of months to go through it and determine what to do with the space.

In late September 2020, Evans told The Ubyssey: “If this was a question of [whether] the feasibility report isn't going to be done for six months, then yes, of course I think it would be unreasonable for us to come in and say that, [Get Thrifty] can't do it. Because this is a maybe.”

Nine months later, the feasibility report is not complete.

In a May 24 email to The Ubyssey, Evans wrote that by that statement he meant, “if we weren’t doing any work at all, and the project was only a ‘what if’ then it would be unreasonable for us to delay on making a decision on the Get Thrifty project.” He said work has continued, therefore his previous statement “doesn’t apply in this case.”

“The whole project is technically a maybe, depending on the costing report. If it’s financially untenable, then there will be decisions made which could include reductions in scope,” Evans clarified.

In a May 25 meeting with the AMS, UBC alum and Get Thrifty founder Rain Chen said the Get Thrifty team was informed of continued delays.

“The [feasibility] report has come back but due to budget concerns, needs to be reviewed for another several weeks, up to two months,” Chen wrote in an email to The Ubyssey.

Evans wrote that the AMS cannot comment on the “project scope or cost as the feasibility report is not complete.

“The AMS remains fully committed to executing the AMS Auditorium [Norm Theatre] project if feasible,” he wrote.

Abby Manrell, current president of Get Thrifty, said the delays the store is facing now are worse than the “worst case scenario” they were given by the AMS back in September 2020.

“It's just very disappointing, in general, especially because we have been operating under the assumption that [the expansion] would be in place for September [2021] for many, many months at this point,” said Manrell.

Get Thrifty may be looking at a construction delay until January 2022 if the AMS goes ahead with the Norm expansion, but Manrell said the team still hasn’t been provided with a clear timeline by the AMS.

In a May 2021 interview, Evans said if it's necessary to close Get Thrifty's store for renovations, the AMS will temporarily relocate the store.

Concerns about store survival

Get Thrifty is concerned about the effects that closing may have on its longevity as the physical storefront opened only three weeks prior to UBC halting in person activity due to COVID-19.

“We're justifiably angry because we put a lot of work into building this infrastructure. Like, over COVID we've rolled out consignment, we've rolled out an online store [and] we've expanded our team,” said Chen.

According to Chen, the delays from the AMS have left Get Thrifty execs feeling like their hands are tied.

“If all of the current director team is gone by the time Get Thrifty opens again and then Get Thrifty fails, whose fault on paper do you think it's going to be? The AMS’s or ours?”

Get Thrifty wants a clear timeline on when the team can begin construction.

“I don't think [the AMS] seem to care or understand that this impacts dozens of volunteers, people who are getting paid to do this [and] that [the] turnover rate of students means that we might just be completely barren of people helping us,” said Chen.

Having an unclear timeline provides a challenge on how to both manage the store’s business operations and ensure the thrift store survives after Manrell’s graduation in May 2022.

On May 25, Chen said Get Thrifty received “assurance that a verdict on the Norm Theatre expansion would be reached by end of summer.”

Evans emphasized that both the Norm project and the Get Thrifty expansion are AMS projects, and thus “subject to prioritization on our end depending on the needs of each project.”

But Manrell emphasized Get Thrifty’s need to be in the know.

“We can absolutely pivot as we need to, we can handle it when things go wrong, but we have to know what's happening,” said Manrell.