Free clothing bin sparks feud among Burlington businesses

Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 5:53 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A free clothing bin in Burlington is causing conflict between neighbors in the city’s downtown.

For many years, Battery Street Jeans’ free clothing bin on College Street has been a haven for people looking for more clothes to help layer up. But due to increased violence and problems outside of the store, some neighbors are pushing back.

Lisa Little is homeless and says the free clothing bin is a huge resource for her to get some new clothes and feel supported. “To have something like this and have an opportunity like this for people to reach out and show they care and provide these services for people like me and many others like me. It’s wonderful to be able to feel good about yourself and be clean,” Little said.

The thrift store is full of used clothes and other goods that attract bargain shoppers, but they also put clothing out into the free bin for anyone. “People don’t have a lot of options, and a great option is getting some warm clothes and being on your way and finding a place to layer up, insulate up,” said Stuart Sporko, the store’s owner.

The bin has been outside the store for six years, but recently it has become a point of contention between Sporko and a group of other businesses who signed a letter opposing the way the bin is being run. Originally, they complained it was messy, but now as issues of safety are rising in Burlington, they say so too has bad behavior from people using the bin.

“It has nothing to do with the idea of what the bin is and helping people that are in need, but more so in the way that it’s being done,” said Andrew Juhasz, the owner of Imperial Barber Company. He’s in recovery for substance abuse himself and while he believes in helping people, he also worries about safety. He says his employees have run into issues with people who are struggling and agitated outside the store. “I don’t know if a free-for-all bin on a public sidewalk is the adequate way to offer assistance.”

“I do agree that some of the ways people behaved was uncalled for and inappropriate but I’m responding to that and I don’t see why I should have to bear all the responsibility for that,” Sporko said. He says he’s already made lots of compromises such as bringing the bin in when the business is closed and asking people to leave if they are unruly.

The issue has now come before the Burlington City Council’s Licensing Committee and the store may be required to get an encumbrance permit. City officials say they are working on a compromise that would allow the bin to remain while addressing the neighbors’ concerns.