Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 7:37 pm | Fair 68º


Unity Shoppe a Key Step Closer to Move to New Location

Board OKs plan to proceed with purchase of former Magellan's building on West Sola Street

For the first time in more than 20 years, Unity Shoppe may have a new home.

Unity Shoppe’s board of directors last week approved the nonprofit organization’s pursuit of the Magellan’s Travel Supplies building at 110 W. Sola St. Unity Shoppe is hopeful that it can purchase the 16,000-square-foot building, which is a block away from its longtime headquarters in the basement of the Victoria Hall Theater, 33 W. Victoria St.

The route to a new location has been arduous, Unity Shoppe executive director Tom Reed told Noozhawk on Friday.

Tensions surrounding the Victoria Hall Theater and its inhabitants came to light last year. The theater is owned by three nonprofit organizations: CALM (Child Abuse Listening & Mediation), RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) of Santa Barbara and Unity Shoppe. Ensemble Theatre Company entered the picture, desiring to use the facility as well. While CALM and RSVP voted to allow the theater company to begin a 30-year lease, Unity has been opposed to the plan, saying it would have negative impacts on Unity’s fundraising telethon that takes place in the theater space. After months of litigation, Ensemble was allowed to proceed with the lease.

“We thought we were in control because we owned a third of it,” Reed said of the Victoria Street building. But he says Unity was excluded from the process, forcing his organization to look for a new home for its annual telethon, and for ongoing operations.

Reed took issue with a recent news report that focused on Ensemble’s new home in the theater, which he said gave the impression to readers that Unity was doing fine.

“Nothing like that is true,” he said. “We are scrambling.”

Although there is still a week of details to be worked out on the new property, Reed is optimistic, and he called the opportunity to purchase the Magellan’s building “magical” for Unity Shoppe.

Reed said investing in improvements to the Victoria site was Unity’s first choice but the organization was forced to look at other options. Meanwhile, the Magellan’s building was set to be torn down as recently as four months ago. Before the recession hit, plans for condominiums had been approved for the site, but the market fell through, leaving the lot without movement.

Unity found out about the owner’s desire to sell before it went on the market. The site’s owner, Magellan’s founder John McManus, had taken a previous tour of Unity Shoppe and offered the group a $3 million price — a figure below the property’s appraised value, Reed said.

“He’s trying to help as much as he can,” he said.

Moving forward, Unity Shoppe has six weeks to prepare for its 24th annual telethon, which it will be running out of Magellan’s old retail store this year. (The new Magellan’s store is located at 3317-A State St. in San Roque.) Meanwhile, Unity hopes to raise as much as possible before the end of the year for improvements at the West Sola site.

Reed is excited about the new space, not only for Unity Shoppe’s benefit, but also for the larger community. Unity Shoppe was involved in disaster relief during the Tea and Jesusita fires, and Reed hopes they can use the space during future times of need.

“It’s a 16,000-square-foot space that we can grow into,” he said. “We’re busting at the seams.”

In the midst of finalizing the purchase, Unity Shoppe will continue to make plans for its telethon, which raises food, clothing and Christmas gifts for children, seniors and families in need. Reed expects the demand this year to be big.

“We have more people showing up for help than we’ve ever seen,” he said, adding that even homeowners have started to come in and ask for help, because they’ve lost a job or are being foreclosed on. Unity expects to see 3,000 families just over the holidays.

“We are their best hope and their last resort,” he said. “We need food desperately.”

Even though money raised during the telethon amounts to a third of Unity Shoppe’s budget, that money is used to buy food and other items to stock its “free” store at 1219 State St. The telethon fundraising doesn’t affect the organization’s capital budget. A capital campaign, which will raise money for the purchase of the new building, will be more of a targeted campaign to gain support among individuals, Reed said.

Click here for more information on Unity Shoppe, or click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @laraanncooper or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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