WATERVILLE — The landmark Ken-A-Set thrift store and the Ervin Center workshop at 1 College Ave. are closing this month, displacing 20 employees – 15 of whom are adults with developmental disabilities.

The store, with its large walk-in display windows, shopping carts and bargain prices, is run by Skills Inc. of St. Albans, a nonprofit organization that helps adults with intellectual disabilities and other challenges through employment, residential and support services. The closings are set for Feb. 22.

Inventory from the thrift shop will be moved to a new thrift shop inside a former Family Dollar store in the Somerset Avenue plaza in Pittsfield, said Skills Inc. CEO Tom Davis. The Ervin Center day program, which currently serves 24 people, will move to the former Social Security building on Front Street in Waterville, next to City Hall, he said.

“We have struggled for years now to make it profitable or even break even and we’ve been unsuccessful in doing that,” Davis said Wednesday of the thrift store that opened in Waterville in the 1970s. “There’s a whole bunch of reasons – primarily, Waterville has a large number of second-hand stores, thrift stores and the competition in this area with Goodwill, Salvation Army and all the various stores is pretty fierce.”

Davis also noted that the anticipated passage of federal and state legislation to limit what is called sub-minimum wage certificates will diminish the options available to clients who work at the Waterville thrift store. The certificates allow people with disabilities to be paid below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, at wages based on a worker’s individual productivity in proportion to the pay and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities and are performing the same work, according to the federal Department of Labor.

All of the Waterville employees are invited to apply for positions at the new store in Pittsfield, but some will likely not be employable when the new laws take effect later this year, Davis said.

“There’s clearly going to be a major legislative effort to eliminate the sub-minimum wage certificates,” Davis said. “We have no choice – this is a national movement. When that effort is passed, there won’t be any options. It’s going to be really very difficult; some people are really going to come up on the short end of this.”

But moving the community support program to Front Street is “a huge step in the right direction,” he said.

“They’ll be going from being in a basement at the Ervin Center to a one-floor, better lit, new building, and we’re very excited. … It represents a real opportunity for us to engage in a major upgrade to our program,” Davis said.

Waterville City Manager Mike Roy said the moves are disappointing in some ways, but could offer an opportunity for another business to move in to the College Avenue location.

It’s difficult to see Main Street lose another storefront, Roy said, plus “some people that have limited opportunities for employment are losing a place where they can work.”

Inside the store Wednesday afternoon, customers and employees said they were shocked and saddened by the news. They said the thrift shop serves people who need the bargain prices and the quick access from downtown.

Store Assistant Manager Michelle Labrie said the lack of nearby parking also has contributed to the closing. She said between 65 and 100 people come into the store every day to browse and shop for clothing, books, knick-knacks, shoes, toys and movies.

“There’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “You never know what you’ll find.”

Labrie said she learned of the store closing during a team meeting Monday. She said she will not be able to apply for job openings in Pittsfield because she doesn’t have a car.

Employee Gail Smiley said she is sad to see the store close.

“I’m definitely sad – I love this job,” Smiley said as she tagged clothing to put out on the store racks. “A lot of people rely on this place.”

Shopper Holly Langdeau of Waterville was in the store Wednesday buying toys for her young nephew. She said she comes to the thrift store often.

“I won’t know where to go when they close,” Langdeau said. “Why is this closing? I think it’s crazy. A lot of people come here. A lot of people need this place to be here.”