LAFAYETTE -- In less than a week, Waneka Marketplace will be made whole again.
The 50,000-square-foot space that was once an Albertsons grocery store was split into three storefronts over the last year. First came Sunflower Farmers Market and Dollar Tree in October, and now Goodwill is set to open a brand-new store in the remaining 17,500 square feet of space.
Doors will first open to the public during a soft opening Dec. 9, while a grand opening celebration will take place on New Year's Day, with 99-cent jeans and 50 percent off many items planned.
The store, only the second Goodwill in Boulder County, began accepting donations of clothes, electronics and furniture Thursday.
"We're thrilled that all of these companies are taking empty spaces and will be producing sales tax dollars to the city," said Vicki Trumbo, executive director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.
The 2009 closures of Albertsons and Ace Hardware threatened to leave the shopping center at the corner of South Boulder Road and U.S. 287 looking like a ghost town.
Outdoor retailer Jax Mercantile has since filled the space occupied by Ace, and Albertsons is barely a memory after the three new shops have moved in between its walls. One of those walls, which used to serve as the grocer's drive-up pharmacy, is now a drive-up drop-off window for people donating items to Goodwill.
Inside the thrift store Thursday, store manager Barbara Dunn supervised a couple of dozen employees as they wheeled racks of clothes from storage and lifted couches into place on the sales floor.
Gleaming aisles with fresh signs hanging overhead gave an organized and clean look to the place. Dunn said the store has hired 40 employees, the vast majority from Lafayette.
"It was really cool we were able to hire local," she said.
Ted Lupberger, chairman of Lafayette's Downtown Action Committee, said there was some initial hesitation in the city about two lower-end retailers setting up right next to each other. But he said Goodwill has revamped its image over the last few years and Dollar Tree, where everything sells for a buck, appeals to a population strapped for cash in a severe recession.
With the larger Jax and Sunflower Market pulling in a steady crowd of shoppers, he said, Waneka Marketplace looks busier than it has in years.
"What's really beneficial is that there is a lot more traffic there," Lupberger said. "It feels more vibrant over there."
Ric Berninzoni, vice president of operations for Goodwill in Denver, said Lafayette doesn't need to worry about his company's new store being adjacent to Dollar Tree because they largely sell different things.
He said the store Goodwill opened in Boulder in June has done very well, and the company's customer base has widened since Goodwill redesigned its stores to look less like thrift outlets and more like retail stores.
"We are an upscale thrift store," he said. "We only put the best out on the floor."
That means no busted TVs, torn pants or shirts with disgusting stains. Berninzoni said damaged or heavily used items end up at Goodwill's salvage operation.
He said the store has proven critical to people who no longer have the disposable income to spend at traditional full-price stores. And with unemployment rates stuck at high levels, Berninzoni said Goodwill's appeal will only broaden.
"People who used to shop Target, Kohl's and TJ Maxx are stepping down to us," he said.
A couple of shoppers paying a visit to Waneka Marketplace on Thursday said they would be interested in checking out Goodwill when it opens, though they said Sunflower was what drew them to Lafayette.
Paulette Bolles, striding out of Sunflower with a drink in her hand, said she thought the three stores in the former Albertsons location were "a good use of space."
She hoped her city, Louisville, might take a clue from neighboring Lafayette in plugging its own retail vacancies.
"I wish they would do the same with the Sam's Club," she said.