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Posted on Sat, Feb 12, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Nonprofit 'store' House by the Side of the Road settles into new Ann Arbor area location

By Janet Miller

The House by the Side of the Road has a new home.

After five months in limbo, the church-sponsored nonprofit that offers free clothing and household items to those in need has a new, larger location off Ellsworth Road in Ann Arbor. It re-opened Jan. 3 at 824 Phoenix Dr.

It’s been a long, occasionally rough journey from the time the organization was told to vacate its longtime location on the Washtenaw County Service Center campus at Hogback Road and Washtenaw Avenue, at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti border.

The county told the nonprofit that it needed to level the building to create an access road for a construction project that includes a new jail and a new 14-A1 District Court building.

House by the Side of the Road closed its doors Aug. 1.

The county notice sent the nonprofit scurrying not only for a new home, but for new funding: The county had supported the organization by offering space at no cost and covering utility costs. The county severed all ties with the organization, said Cathy Freeman, treasurer of House by the Side of the Road and pastoral assistant at the Dixboro United Methodist Church, though it did pay for the move.


Frances Arnett, director of House by the Side of the Road.

Janet Miller | For

House by the Side of the Road will now have to turn to fundraising to cover the costs. Its annual budget is projected to be $61,000, compared to just $6,500 previously, the Rev. Freeman said.

It took time to find a new location, said Frances Arnett, part-time director of House by the Side of the Road. Organizers wanted more space — the old location was cramped and aging, with duct tape used to patch the carpet — and they needed to be close to a bus line. The new location offers more than 4,200 square feet, compared to 1,500 square feet at the service center. They served close to 6,000 people last, and hope that number will double, Arnett said.

The new location also offers a bathroom for clients that can double as a changing room, a luxury the old space didn’t have. “It’s not crowded,” Arnett said. “Now, you can get around the racks.” Parking is better and a back door will make drop-offs easier, said Prudy Dittmar, a volunteer.

House by the Side of the Road had enough money in the bank to rent space and get up and running, the Rev. Freeman said. The organization is paying between $4 to $5 a square foot. It has enough funds to operate for two years, and will launch a fundraising campaign this spring, turning to the church community, the county and others. “We need to get out there and start beating the bushes,” she said.

House by the Side of the Road was founded 43 years ago when area churches consolidated their clothing closets in a single location that would have regular hours. The organization offers adult and children’s clothing, small household items such as pots and pans, towels and linens, toys, books, bassinets and more. All clients are referred by a church or a social worker. They are allowed four visits a year.

In the beginning, the county agreed to support the effort by offering space at its service center. But a rumored covenant between the nonprofit and the county, guaranteeing housing, was never found and the county ended up passing a resolution to sever ties, the Rev. Freeman said.

Some volunteers worried that the new location would be too far to travel for Ypsilanti residents, who make up the majority of clients. But volunteer Raycean Hunter is optimistic. “I think this place is going to be just fine,” she said. “People always enjoyed themselves here. When you’re in need, you find a way.”

With more space, House by the Side of the Road needs more volunteers. Call (734) 971-2550 to volunteer or to donate. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter for