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St. Vinnie's in Exile

Even an arson fire couldn't stop the resale shop's charity.

by Catherine Zudak

From the December, 2017 issue

A fire on May 8 devastated the first floor of the Anson Brown Building on Broadway, leaving the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store homeless.

"We weren't even allowed in there for a month, while the detectives were doing their work," says Vicky Wozny, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Ann Arbor.

The fire was ruled arson, and there is an ongoing investigation including a reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved.

Built in 1832, the building just north of the river is the oldest commercial structure in Ann Arbor. Landlord Jim Koli says the fire gutted the first floor and caused extensive smoke damage to the apartments on the second and third floors.

"Fortunately, no one was hurt," Wozny says.

In addition to losing its inventory, the society lost a major source of income for its charitable giving and in-kind contributions to those in need. For now, it is open on a walk-in basis Tuesday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. It also provides home visits to assess individual and family needs and participates in a voucher program with fourteen social service agencies. Clients with vouchers from the agencies can "spend" them in the store to buy clothes and other items.

Donations from the community, including a GoFundMe site (, have helped make up the difference. So far in 2017, they have given $59,593 in aid, mostly in Washtenaw County.

Wozny says they hope to reopen the store to donations after the first of the year and begin normal operations as soon as possible thereafter. The society has a donation box outside Ace Barnes Hardware on Stadium, but with no place to sell donations, Wozny locked the box after the fire and put a sign up. Donations that are left outside the box are being taken to clothing recyclers.

Koli estimates it will take $300,000 to repair all the damage from the fire. The smoke remediation phase will soon be followed by replacing the plumbing and the electrical systems.

"It's been a learning experience for me," he says. "Do you know smoke damages grout? We had to pull up all the tile in the bathrooms."    (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2017.]


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