Whidbey Island social media channels have been abuzz with the news week that thrift store Good Cheer Two is unable to afford a new lease with Ken’s Korner Shopping Plaza in Clinton and, as a result, is making plans to move out of the building.
Some of the remaining tenants of the strip mall worry they may be met with the same fate too, eventually.
Since 2012, the thrift store supporting Good Cheer Food Bank has occupied a spot at Ken’s Korner. The location has no shortage of clothing, furniture, home decor, tools, appliances and electronics for people to peruse. Recently customers enjoyed sifting through a collection of Christmas items.
In October 2021, Osprey Management, a property management company based in Las Vegas, introduced themselves to the tenants as the new owners of Ken’s Korner. The county Assessor’s Office lists the owner as Ken Korner Wa LLC and the Secretary of State identifies the LLC as a Las Vegas company.
Good Cheer, whose lease is coming to an end soon, was hit with a rent increase greater than 50%. The shopping mall’s previous landlords gave the thrift store a special deal on rent because of its nonprofit status.
But with an explosion in the rental market and the decision of the new owners to charge a market rate rent, the cost is more than the thrift store budgeted for.
Karen Korbelik and Lissa Firor, co-executive directors of Good Cheer, said they hope to have the furniture room in the store cleared out by the end of August. Negotiations are still ongoing about when Good Cheer will vacate the rest of the building, but it’s possible that a short-term extension may allow them time to wind down operations and consider other alternatives.
“We’re still looking at other options and we’re really cognizant of the fact that thrift stores do more for the community than just generate money for the food banks,” Firor said. “We also provide low-cost and affordable goods to the whole community and we provide a way to recycle things locally, and those things matter to us and to the community.”
If another space can be found for a rent below market rate, Korbelik said, the thrift store could continue.
“We’re really hoping that the community focus on solutions and be positive. We aren’t pushing the hard feelings or negativity about Osprey Management,” Firor said. “Like everyone else, we’re really sad about what’s happening but we don’t think they’re the root cause of the problem and there are bigger conversations that the community should have that are more important.”
In a response to the South Whidbey Record, Osprey Management said they have no plans to displace any of the current tenants at Ken’s Korner.
Yet fears from the community that the shopping plaza might be converted into storage units might not be unfounded.
“We have not had steady inquiries on the available retail space, our research has shown that self-storage is also a need in the community,” Osprey Management wrote in an email to The Record. “As a result of the lack of interest in the retail space and the need for self-storage we are looking at potential options to use the empty space at Ken’s Korner to accommodate those needs as well.”
The property management company declined to comment on the specifics of the tenants’ situations.
Debbie Wilkie, owner of Critters & Co. Pet Center, said that leases are staggered, making everyone’s situation a little different.
Wilkie has three years left on her lease, but she said many of the other business owners have two years. Even so, they would like to know soon what rental increases may be coming their way. Knowing six months before a lease is up, Wilkie said, is not nearly enough time to plan ahead.
She and some of the other tenants have approached employees in the Ken’s Korner rental office asking for a clear answer.
“We want it in writing what their intentions are, because it really looks like they’re trying to push us out,” Wilkie said.
She added that a few months ago, the new owners raised common area maintenance fees, which are used to help cover costs associated with overhead and operating expenses for communal areas such as the shopping mall’s parking lot.
For Wilkie, that was a $400 increase that now puts her monthly common area maintenance fees at $1,200, which she pays on top of rent.
“The problem we’re worried about is literally getting priced out by their maintenance fees,” she said.
But for some of the other tenants at Ken’s Korner, the changes may not be felt as keenly.
John Auburn, owner of Whidbey Island Bagel Factory, said the increases were not a factor in his decision to close the Ken’s Korner location for retail operations. He plans to keep the location to work on wholesale orders.
Wilkie said she and the other Ken’s Korner business owners have received countless phone calls from concerned South Whidbey residents over the last week.