Donation center, store to open

A Franklin woman, with the help of her family, will open a donation center and secondhand store in the building recently vacated by the Salvation Army in Sugarcreek.

Ellen Gierlach is heading up the enterprise, called Gems, with the hopes that the nonprofit will provide many benefits to the area.

“It will be a store similar to the Salvation Army with one big difference – all the proceeds will stay in Venango County,” said Gierlach. “That is the one message I want to be clear – it will benefit this area.”

Gierlach said she was motivated to start the nonprofit because she wanted to give back to Venango County.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” said Gierlach, who grew up in Utica, “and this is something I really wanted to do. There is such a need in this county for many things. There are so many things we can do down the road with the proceeds from this.”

She envisions the venture growing into “so many phases,” including donations to the Franklin YMCA, the VNA hospice and the Collins House.

“If we can fulfill a need, we will do it,” said Gierlach. “Down the road, I hope we can have students work after school, make donations of books to schools and even sponsor a scholarship for students. I want to provide jobs for the area, as well.”

Gierlach is awaiting approval from the state for the use of the name “Gems Donation Station” before she can finalize the opening date.

“If we cannot use that name, I plan to use ‘Gems on the River,'” said Gierlach. “We are just waiting for the paperwork now. Whichever is the name, I plan to open within a few weeks of hearing from the state.”

The store will sell secondhand items such as clothing and household items. It will also, however, add other useful things.

“I will definitely be selling recycled construction items,” said Gierlach. “I visited Construction Junction in Pittsburgh, another nonprofit, and I will be doing the same thing as them with construction material.”

Gierlach also hopes to provide space for vendors to set up booths for selling items on consignment.

“It is a big space. I have plans to use it for many things.”

Gierlach said she will donate construction items to the Franklin YMCA and hopes to also help Habitat for Humanity.

“I have found out that Construction Junction donates recycled construction items to Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “I hope that maybe we can do this also.”

Instead of the usual bins that secondhand stores provide for donations, Gems will build sheds to receive donations, and donors will also be able to hand items through windows that are being installed.

Gierlach has been preparing for the opening for a little over a year. She had hoped to open in another space, but when that did not happen and the site of the Salvation Army became available, she decided to use it instead.

“I have purchased clothing racks from Kmart when it went out of business. And I am going to Ohio to buy display shelving from a Sears store that has closed,” said Gierlach.

“We have already bought a few estates so that we have some things to start with. And when we have everything finalized with the state, we will be putting up a sign to ask for donations so that we can fill the store.”

In addition, Gierlach said, there was an “emergency” situation in which a “big donation” was made to a family in need of household items.

“This has been a lot of work. I’m not afraid of hard work, and I have a wonderful family who are all hard workers,” said Gierlach. “I’m excited about it. We are going to make this happen.”