WELLFLEET — After 23 years in the same location on Route 6, Mass Appeal must find a new home.
The nonprofit that gives out free used clothes to residents of the Outer Cape received a letter on Nov. 1 signed by landlord J. Bruce MacGregor telling the group they must be out by Jan. 31, 2020. “If you fail to so vacate, I will have to employ the due course of the law to evict you,” his letter stated.
Mass Appeal was founded in 1989 as an informal clothing swap in Eastham. As the popularity of the swap grew, it moved, first to a Route 6 dollar store owned by Fred Ryan in South Wellfleet. Then, in 1996, with help from a growing group of mostly retired volunteers, it settled in its current location, the back room of a small strip mall known as Cove Corner, behind what is now a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Right from the beginning, Mass Appeal “wasn’t just a nice thing to do. It became an imperative,” said Christine Austin, president of the board of directors. Austin said all kinds of people “shop” at the store — there is no cash register, and the well-cared-for clothing is given to visitors free of charge.
Each week, Mass Appeal receives well over 100 big black garbage bags of clothes donated by the public, said Austin. A jovial group of 20 core volunteers sorts, folds, and displays clothing on racks and in bins in the 1,750-square-foot space. The Salvation Army gets bundles of what they cannot use, and a local trash hauler takes the rest, Austin said. Mass Appeal is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon.
The place is busy.
When the Independent visited last week, customers eyed the displays with deep concentration. Two shoppers said their outfits came entirely from Mass Appeal.
“Without this place it would be a struggle,” said Heather Brunelle of Orleans, who was fully outfitted hat to rain boots in Mass Appeal garb. She handed her five-month-old child to Mass Appeal volunteer Kathie Harris so she could shop with two hands.
Shoppers of any means can use the place, no questions asked.
“But 50 to 60 percent are really needy,” said Rebecca Holmes, the executive director and only paid employee. “We have a lot of foreign workers who come here.”
“I simply cannot in good conscience leave here in the middle of a Cape Cod winter,” Austin said. “We need an extension.”
Multiple calls to MacGregor’s daughter, Molly MacGregor, who collects rent from the tenants of the strip mall, went unanswered. No one knows why MacGregor wants the nonprofit out of there. But in April the Wellfleet Select Board granted a host community agreement to a marijuana retailer, Nature’s Alternative, to open a store at Cove Corner. A former Cove Corner tenant, Rustored Salvage, an antiques store, moved to Eastham recently, leaving the main space vacant. A rumor has circulated that the marijuana shop will move into Rustored Salvage’s location.
It’s unknown if that is why MacGregor wants Mass Appeal to leave, Holmes said, but the current thinking is that it is to make way for the marijuana business.
Two other tenants in the complex, the Furies Cape Cod Cleaning Services and Dunkin’ Donuts, both have leases.
“There has to be a solution,” said Steven Lam, owner of the Furies Cleaning Service. “It’s a very, very valuable organization. I’m witness to how many people benefit from the donations. It’s a high-traffic, well-needed place. If we cannot convince the landlord to do something then they need a new location.
“The community appreciates them,” Lam added. “I see people coming out of there with smiles. You think of Wellfleet as an affluent community. But it’s not all like that.”
Austin said the current space is perfect since it’s on the highway and accessible to many customers who arrive by bus. The rent is affordable in relation to their $25,000 annual budget, she added. She said they need about 2,000 square feet of space.
“I have no idea where we’ll go,” Holmes said. “This place is ideal. I can’t imagine a place that will be better than this. We are hoping we can change their minds.”
The number of “shoppers” visiting Mass Appeal between September and December 2019:
Other Towns: 245
Mass Appeal keeps track of the number of visitors they have based on family size and town, since Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham town meeting voters are asked to make contributions to the nonprofit each year.