By John Schaffner

Dave Sheley has reached back to his experiences growing up in a poor family and his business know-how from owning and operating 21 Wendy’s restaurants in east Tennessee to open the new Thrifty Living Discount Center in Sandy Springs.

Thrifty Living is a new and recycled items department store concept, which Sheley describes as something like “Big Lots meets Goodwill.” It is a hybrid business that treads between thrift and traditional retail, with a large showroom of new merchandise and donated goods.

The first Thrifty Living store opened earlier this month, and Sheley hopes it’s the first of 10 or 12 stores in Atlanta. The business exists to support local and regional ministries, as well as international ministries, in their efforts to empower people and change lives.

This store has partnerships with two Atlanta-based ministries: the City of Refuge, based in inner-city Atlanta, and Partners to the World, through Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.

Much of the concept is an outgrowth of a change of life Sheley experienced in 1979. He thought about going into the ministry, but that didn’t work out. He and his brother were both in the food business—he with the Wendy’s restaurants and his brother started a company in Atlanta called D’Lites which grew up to 100 stores.

Sheley said he started getting too old for the food business “and my wife thought I ate too much, so I went into consulting.” He was hired by a ministry to go into the thrift stores that were losing money. “I asked how do you lose money with stuff that is being donated?”

He helped them put in controls and up-scaled the stores “because we wanted more than just the thrift-store shopper. We made them look like retail stores and generated over a half-million dollars for the ministry in less than two years.”

Through that, he started getting requests to do thrift stores. He said he knew people associated with the City of Refuge in Atlanta, which houses homeless women and children. They also have a large kitchen, which is used to feed the neighborhood, and for catering and a culinary school.

The Mimms family of Roswell-based Mimms Group, donated a 200,000-square-foot warehouse for the City of Refuge’s home.

City of Refuge had tried doing thrift store but it didn’t work in the heart of the city. That was the catalyst for the new business.

Thrifty Living may be more of a complement than a competitor to traditional thrift stores, according to spokespeople from both Goodwill International and the Salvation Army, who said that neither sales nor donations are affected by new thrift-store operations arriving on the scene.

“We are getting more donations than we ever have,” said Dan Delaney, administrator of Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta. “Competition is good for us. They more people give the more they want to give.”

Added Rashida Powell, with Goodwill of Atlanta, “Everything has been steady. So, we don’t see these operations as a threat at this time.”