A local entrepreneur is launching a new business model in Lancaster County that aims to provide one-stop shopping in underserved communities while supporting local nonprofits combating poverty and homelessness. 

Set to debut next year, Treasures Markets will be a combination discount supermarket and thrift store.

“It’s a tremendously strong idea,” said Mike Mitchell, Treasures Markets’ chairman.

He’s developing it in partnership with Water Street Mission, the Social Enterprise Institute at Elizabethtown College and The High Foundation.

Treasures Markets will embody the “triple bottom line” that social enterprises aim for, Water Street’s president Jack Crowley said.

Treasures Markets 1.jpg

A preliminary rendering of a Treasures Markets store. 

First, as a business, Treasures Markets will bring low-cost food and necessities to underserved areas. Second, it will create jobs — the vast majority requiring at most a high school education.

One pathway to those jobs will be Step-Up, Water Street Mission’s employment-training and support program.

Third, proceeds from Treasures Markets will go to Water Street to support its programs, and eventually to other nonprofits.

“On all three levels, it has a positive impact,” Crowley said.

The team plans to open the first Treasures Markets next year at 515 N. Franklin St., the former Farmers Supply building.

Dan Jurman is executive director of the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County and executive director of the Coalition to Combat Poverty. He’s not involved in Treasures Markets, but he’s familiar with it through discussions with Mitchell.

Surveys show that limited-income households typically patronize superstores like Walmart — not just for the low prices, but because one-stop shopping is a must for those with time and transportation constraints, he said.

Treasures Markets could create a local, community-based version of that, Jurman said.

“Add to that the social enterprise component, and I think it is an idea worth supporting,” he said.


Like a treasure hunt

Mitchell is the former president of the local grocery discount chain Amelia’s. During his tenure, it grew from three stores to 15.

Mitchell sold Amelia’s to Grocery Outlet in 2011 and in 2013 became executive director of the S. Dale High Center for Family Business at Elizabethtown College.

That’s around the time God put the idea for Treasures Markets in his heart, he said.

He was busy in his new role, so he didn’t act on it at first. But one day he ran it past Jim Reeb, founder of the Social Enterprise Foundation and the Social Enterprise Institute, an affiliated entity at Elizabethtown College.

Reeb loved it. Encouraged, Mitchell decided to flesh it out.

Discount groceries and thrift shopping are natural complements, Mitchell said. He envisions an unbeatable one-two punch of convenience and price, “the Walmart of closeout.”

The name comes from a comment Mitchell used to hear from Amelia’s shoppers: “This is like a treasure hunt. ... It’s different every time!”

Treasures Markets is incorporated as a commercial business with a social mission that extends beyond profit.

It’s co-owned by Reeb’s Social Enterprise Foundation and a foundation Mitchell created called Dare You to Move. Proceeds will flow to another foundation, Treasures of Hope, for distribution to Water Street and other worthy causes.

None of the organizers or partners stand to gain financially, Mitchell emphasized: “There is no motive to make money out of this.”


Store No. 1

Mitchell and his team have an agreement to buy the Franklin Street location from Ted Alspach, who operated Farmers Supply until his retirement in 2016.

Alspach has been leasing 515 N. Franklin St. to Lancaster city government, which is temporarily using the building to house the Streets Bureau. The bureau hopes to vacate by early December, said Matt Metzler, deputy public works director.

Once it has ownership, Treasures Markets will remodel the building and equip it for its new use. The site will be reconfigured to add some parking, Mitchell said.

He envisions opening in spring or summer 2020. Plans call for opening as many as seven other stores over the next eight years.

Alspach said he’s delighted the building is being repurposed and will continue to serve its community.

The store will create about 40 to 45 full-time equivalent jobs. Mitchell said. On average, they’ll pay $13.06 an hour, he said, or $27,168 per year, and there will be opportunities for people to move up into supervisory and managerial roles, he said.

That’s above the livable wage for a single adult in Lancaster County, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Amy Glasmeier. Her model puts the threshold at $11.18 an hour, or $23,254 per year.

“That’s a decent start,” Jurman said, “especially if there are raises and upward mobility.”