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Nations Charities Thrift Store in need of funds
Nations Charities Thrift Store in need of funds: The Rev. Israel Suarez talks about trying to raise $300,000 for the down payment on the building holding his thrift store. Video by Amanda Inscore/news-press.com.
Osvaldo Flores shops for books Wednesday at the Nations Association Charities Family Store. Nations is trying to raise money to buy the store, its main source of revenue. / Amanda Inscore/news-press.com

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For information on donations, contact Nations Association Charities at:
P.O. Box 1060
Fort Myers, FL 33902
332-7575
On the web:
nationsassociation.org

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Fort Myers-based Nations Association Charities is in a financial spot so tough its very existence may be threatened.

Unless it soon comes up with $300,000, its Family Store on Palm Beach Boulevard — a space Nations says it leases to generate one of its primary sources of program funding — could close in favor of tenants offering higher rent to the building’s owner.

The store, which sells a variety of used furnishings at a discount rate, grosses between $4,000 and $6,000, too little to buy the building or significantly increase its lease payments, said the Rev. Israel Suarez, executive director of Nations, which has used the location for its store for almost two years.

Owner Gary Svoboda told Nations he would sell the building at 3842 Palm Beach Blvd. for $665,000, the first $300,000 of which he would accept as a down payment. The remainder would be paid out over a number of years, with interest.

Otherwise, Svoboda told Nations, he has firm lease offers from a chain discount retailer and a laundromat. Suarez said he knows of no other similarly sized affordable building in the area suitable for a store relocation.

“I’m in a tough spot,” Suarez said. “There’s nowhere else I can go.”

Founded in 1978, Nations is one of Southwest Florida’s most visible organizations serving the poor. It offers emergency food and holiday meals, financial assistance and a variety of youth programs. It generally does not seek government support.

Its 2010 tax forms, the latest publicly available, show Nations generated about $308,000 in total revenue that year. It had net assets of about $236,000. The organization owns a property east of the store on Palm Beach that serves as its community service center.

Suarez pays Svoboda 28 percent of what he grosses in a given month, far less than lease offers from other potential tenants and not enough to keep up with taxes on the building, Svoboda said. He said he wants to begin negotiations with others next week.

“I’ve got to make a choice here because I can no longer afford to subsidize the building,” Svoboda told The News-Press.

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The Lee County property appraiser values the 6,800-square-foot property at $412,000. Svoboda purchased the property in 2005 for $470,000, county records show.

The well-connected Suarez has enlisted help of some of the area’s primary movers and shakers, including Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan and former CIA director Porter Goss, a Sanibel resident, to help him raise cash in a hurry.

For now, though, it’s unclear what they will do.

The organization’s board agreed Wednesday to negotiate further with Svoboda. Beyond that, board and community members suggested some sort of fundraising event but did not decide how to put one together.

One bit of good news for Nations: Suarez said he already has $50,000 in financial commitments.

Nations’ Family Store sits on a high-traffic stretch of Palm Beach that has easy east- and west-turn access to the parking lot. The 1-acre property also has enough space to allow for expansion to almost double the size of the store.

As well as discount furnishings, the store employs students, people ordered to perform community service and volunteers. Many are teens.

Jorge Hernandez, 18, first got involved with Nations eight years ago as a member of its after-school program. A recent graduate of Dunbar High School, he works in the Family Store. He said he hopes to save enough to help with his future college expenses.

“It also gives me a good feeling, helping the community,” Hernandez said.

Beatriz Remigio, 19, agreed. She’s a volunteer who hopes to eventually study law in college.

“I think it’s better helping the community instead of laying around at home doing nothing,” she said.

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