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updated: 8/8/2011 9:44 AM

Financial woes hit Glen Ellyn store that helps needy

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  • Chana Bernstein, left, opened the SARET Treasures of Hope gift shop in Glen Ellyn to benefit those in need of financial assistance, such as Jennifer Hamlin, who has been homeless for the past few months. But the store may have to close its doors because of declining business.

       Chana Bernstein, left, opened the SARET Treasures of Hope gift shop in Glen Ellyn to benefit those in need of financial assistance, such as Jennifer Hamlin, who has been homeless for the past few months. But the store may have to close its doors because of declining business.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • SARET Charitable Fund President Chana Bernstein says she may close the charity's downtown Glen Ellyn store if sales don't pick up in the next few months.

       SARET Charitable Fund President Chana Bernstein says she may close the charity's downtown Glen Ellyn store if sales don't pick up in the next few months.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

A Glen Ellyn store that uses its proceeds to benefit the less fortunate is on the verge of closing due to a decline in sales.

SARET Treasures of Hope, 449 N. Main St., will have to shut its doors if sales can't fund the store's already-late July and August rent payments, said Chana Bernstein, president of the SARET Charitable Fund, which provides financial assistance to the homeless, disabled and others in need.

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The boutique, which specializes in jewelry and clothing, has relied on strong summer sales in the past. Sales at the Jazz Fest on July 9 brought in $230, compared to more than $1,000 last year. The Sidewalk Sale July 21-23 yielded $550 compared to $1,600 the year before, Bernstein said.

"I couldn't believe how the economy was impacting our work. We always relied on the store to be there for the charity, and we usually manage to do it," Bernstein said. "But this summer has been a nightmare."

The store opened in a strip mall on Roosevelt Road in 2007 and moved to its current downtown spot last year. All along, Bernstein has maintained the store would have to support itself -- and no donations made to the charitable fund would go to cover the store's overhead costs.

"I don't want to take donations from the charity for the store," Bernstein said. "Then that's not a charity."

Rent and utilities cost about $2,200 a month, and payroll is $1,000 for the store's part-time employees.

The charity operated without administrative costs before it opened its first store in 2007. Bernstein, who says she's always been a volunteer, previously ran the charity out of her home office and got in touch with those in need by phone and email.

She started SARET in 1985 as a way to help local refugees from countries such as Cambodia and Ethiopia, and later expanded her outreach to assist single mothers and those facing financial difficulty.

Today, the charity helps between 30 and 40 people every month by providing assistance in the form of bus fare cards, money for gasoline and gift cards for grocery stores.

Bernstein says the store has become a destination point for her homeless clients, serving as a place where they can get household goods, beds and furniture. Some keep their belongings in the store's basement until they find housing.

One person receiving assistance from SARET is 44-year-old Jennifer Hamlin, who lost her Roselle home because she says she couldn't afford it.

After she was involved in a car crash on North Avenue in October 2009, Hamlin underwent three small back surgeries and is still on pain medication because of nerve damage. She says a doctor has told her she can't return to work as a nurse, but she's also been denied Social Security disability insurance.

She's been living out of her car the past few months as she waits for a settlement from the accident.

One morning last week Hamlin came to the store to get money for gas. Bernstein gave her $10 out of the charitable fund's account.

"Chana is absolutely wonderful," Hamlin said. "She's a very good-hearted person."

In an effort to increase foot traffic at the store, SARET will be offering a half-off jewelry and clothing sale from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Bernstein said she'll see if that results in better sales in the next two to three months to keep the store open.

"We're seeing the need. Middle-class America is falling to pieces and it's not getting much better," Bernstein said. "We're trying to educate people. We want to keep the store there."

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