To Sam Davis, it just doesn’t add up.
Outside the store, he sees the big AMVETS vans parked at the loading dock.
Inside the store, employees act as if veterans don’t even exist.
Davis, 58, of Tallmadge, is an Army vet who served in the Signal Corps during the mid-1970s. He knows that Goodwill offers an everyday discount to veterans, and that both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer everyday discounts to veterans who receive VA benefits.
But when he asked about a discount at the place where he frequently sees AMVETS vans parked — Village Discount Outlet on Waterloo Road in South Akron — he was told to pound salt.
Davis was not only insulted, but puzzled. How could an organization founded to assist veterans not give veterans a discount?
And why, he wondered, had he been donating his own possessions to AMVETS if the same group wasn’t giving him one iota of help on the other end?
I solved his mystery. But the answers raise plenty of new questions.
Village Discount is not run by AMVETS. It is a private, for-profit operation with five stores in Ohio, two in Greater Akron.
Village Discount uses the AMVETS name to collect donations, pays AMVETS by the pound, and then sells the goods at its own retail stores at its own prices.
So AMVETS is making money from your donations, but not directly. And AMVETS is not making enough money to preclude a middleman from making a profit.
This arrangement stands in stark contrast to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, which operate their own networks of stores.
At the Village Discount on Waterloo, across the street from the Holy Cross Cemetery, discounts for service members are offered one day a week. But that’s only on Wednesday, and it’s the same discount offered to college students and anyone over the age of 54.
This despite the omnipresent AMVETS vans and two big AMVETS donation boxes alongside the building.
Davis thinks the arrangement is deceptive, and vows never to donate another item to AMVETS.
“If the stores are for profit, how can they use veterans as their ticket to profits?” he asks. “Is this fair to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, who truly invest in the community?”
Now that he mentions it, a Salvation Army store on South Arlington Street in Akron went out of business in 1996 shortly after a Village Discount store moved into the same plaza.
This relationship is perfectly legal. Tax deductions are allowed for AMVETS donations, even though those donations wind up generating money for a profit-making operation. But it’s safe to assume this isn’t what many donors have in mind when they hand over their used goods to people driving vans labeled “AMVETS.”
AMVETS was founded right after World War II and is made up of current and former service members from all branches. Much of its effort is focused on a network of national service officers, folks trained and certified by Veterans Affairs who meet personally with vets to provide free help with filing VA claims and appeals.
AMVETS also spends plenty of time lobbying for veteran causes.
Of all the national stores selling goods donated to AMVETS, only a small percentage are actually owned and operated by the charity.
The national spokesman for AMVETS, Jay Agg, based in Lanham, Md., acknowledged in a phone interview that many people believe they are donating directly to his group. But the end result is that AMVETS is making money from those donations and helping vets as a result, he said.
“Yes, if we owned and operated all of our thrift stores, it might be a slightly better portion of the proceeds going to our programs,” he said. “But then again, we would also be spending a lot more in overhead.
“We would have to pay for utilities, pay salaries and benefits to employees, so it’s not clear that we would necessarily be able to spend more money on veterans if we owned and operated all our stores.”
Actually, it seems clear more money would be generated unless the stores were mismanaged. Village Discount pays its own overhead, pays AMVETS and still makes a profit. If it didn’t, the stores wouldn’t stay open.
We would have given you the Village Discount side of this issue, but Jim Reeves of Columbus, who oversees the operation of all five Ohio stores, including the one on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Meanwhile, our Tallmadge veteran has had it.
Davis grew up in Akron and graduated from Garfield High, then earned a degree in education from the University of Akron. He taught briefly but couldn’t support a family on the income, and went on to other jobs, at a power plant, with the postal service and as a drywall plasterer.
Married for 34 years, with three daughters, Davis, like so many other folks in our area, struggles to make ends meet.
He hasn’t been back to Village Discount since the day he was brusquely informed that no veterans discount was available. And he has absolutely no intention of returning.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.