Standing outside the Good Cause Thrift Shop, Jan Cole had one word to describe the news that her favorite store will soon close its door for good.

“It’s sad this is happening,” the Portland resident and frequent Good Cause shopper said. “It’s so sad to see this go.”

The thrift shop, which has operated in downtown Portland for more than 20 years to raise money for Catherine McAuley High School scholarships and support other local charities, will close March 19. School officials say that rising rent and operating costs led to the decision, which was met with disbelief and sadness by nearby residents – many of them senior citizens – who have come to depend on the store for affordable clothes and housewares.

“There’s going to be such a huge hole in the community. This is a part of the community that’s been there forever,” said Gary Savage, a part-time thrift shop employee. “It serves part of the community that no one else wants to service in downtown Portland.”

Katie Guzman, a long-time employee of Good Cause Thrift Shop, makes change for a customer. The store will close its doors later this month.

Katie Guzman, a long-time employee of Good Cause Thrift Shop, makes change for a customer. The store will close its doors later this month. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Kathryn Barr, head of school at McAuley, said the thrift shop was founded about 23 years ago to raise scholarship funds for McAuley students. She attributed the decision to close the store to increases in rent and other operating costs over the past 2½ years that required the school to subsidize the store.

“The time has come for us to say goodbye to a wonderful organization that is no longer able to fill its purpose of getting our girls tuition money they need,” Barr said. “We wish it could have worked out.”

The decision to close the store comes at a time of transition for the private Portland high school, which had been affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church since it was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1969. The school announced in October that it would drop its Catholic affiliation in 2016 to give its board more local control and open the school to more girls. It will remain at its campus on Stevens Avenue.

Barr said employees and volunteers at Good Cause Thrift Shop were too upset to speak to a reporter, but volunteers and employees said they were told not to speak to the media about the store closing. A Facebook page for the thrift store has been removed.

Savage, the part-time employee, said he decided to speak out about the closure because of the impact it will have on the community and the roughly 10 employees who will lose their jobs.

Savage said he has a great amount of respect for the shop’s employees and volunteers because of the way they interact with customers. There have been times he’s seen them give a hat or gloves to someone who needed them but couldn’t afford to pay. Often, customers would stop by to have conversations with the person behind the counter.

“It’s emotional. The people who work there are wonderful,” Savage said. “It’s unbelievable how dedicated these people are.”

Lucy is a regular customer at Good Cause Thrift Shop, according to Lucy's owner, Rose Dumeny.

Lucy is a regular customer at Good Cause Thrift Shop, according to Lucy’s owner, Rose Dumeny. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When news of the impending closure started to trickle out two weeks ago, residents of the apartments above the thrift shop circulated a petition asking McAuley to reconsider its decision. Savage said he was told around 700 people signed it. A group of employees is also trying to save the store by raising money to keep it going.

“There’s nothing really like it in the city,” Savage said.

The store is on Forest Avenue in the Arts District, in a neighborhood that has seen much transition in recent years as lower-income housing has been upgraded or replaced with market-rate apartments.

Last week, the only indication at the store that closure is imminent was a sign on the door saying donations are no longer being accepted. Inside, a half-dozen shoppers flipped through racks of clothes and thumbed through shelves of books and board games. A sign advertised a half-off sale on winter clothes.

Many of the frequent customers are low-income seniors who live in the 160 apartments above the shop. Standing outside the store, they said they rely on the business for clothing and household items they can’t afford at other stores. Most don’t have cars and highly valued the convenience of going downstairs to buy a winter jacket for a few dollars or pick up a toy for their grandchild, they said.

Bob Sheehy, who lives above the shop, said it is “a shame” to see it close. He shopped at the store at least once a month.

“Being on Social Security, I can’t afford to shop anywhere else,” he said.

Rose Dumeny and her mother, Shirley Bridges, shop at Good Cause just about every day. Over the years, they’ve bought most of their clothes there and Bridges enjoyed finding special decorations for her apartment. Bridges said the store employees and volunteers are “very nice” people who treated their customers well.

“I feel bad about it closing. It’s a loss for a lot of people,” said Carmen Ferbee, who was wearing a bright red jacket she found at Good Cause for $20 as she sat outside the store Monday. “Everybody shops in there. We’re going to miss it.”