2016 Villain: Goodwill Management
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2016 Villain: Goodwill Management

Nominated for: a surprise bankruptcy which left hundreds of Ontario's most vulnerable in the lurch.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Goodwill :(

Some businesses mean a lot more than their bottom lines. One such organization is Goodwill. Over a century old, the U.S.-based non-profit lends its name to more than 160 branches worldwide in 17 countries. In January, only one of these branches failed, when Ontario Goodwill locations suddenly shut down.

Goodwill is synonymous with thrifting, and it also provides an important social impact: Goodwill makes a point of employing vulnerable residents, including the disabled. It never had high-end merchandise or attractive store displays—what made the store special was its mandate, and how it put people before profits.

That’s what made it so gutting when Goodwill’s board of directors abruptly announced early in 2016 that they would close 16 Ontario stores, a move that put 430 employees out of work. The board stated that this was due to a “cash flow crisis,” but this was nothing new. Based on audited statements, the organization knew it was in a financial crunch for some time. On more than one occasion it has essentially bought time by selling real estate holdings to subsidize its operational losses.

If you asked management, they would say there were mitigating circumstances that forced Goodwill into bankruptcy. There was more competition from for-profit thrift stores, the rise of Craigslist and Kijiji, an increased minimum wage, and more. You want to give management, led by ousted TCHC CEO Keiko Nakamura, the benefit of the doubt. After all, these are likely good people doing their best in difficult circumstances. But this charitable line of thinking doesn’t hold up when you consider that the 160 other branches of Goodwill, many of which face similar challenges, did not go bankrupt.

Granted, Goodwill may come back to Ontario in some form in 2017. But that’s little comfort to the 430 employees who were suddenly thrown out of work last January, many of whom may have been living paycheque to paycheque.

Goodwill management had a mission to be better, and sadly, they came up short.