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A Methodist Minister from Boston named Edgar J. Helms founded Goodwill Industries in 1902. Rev. Helms pioneered an organization that gave people hope, dignity and independence. When some of Boston's poorest citizens asked Rev. Helms for help getting food and clothing, he took a burlap bag and went to Boston's wealthiest citizens. Instead of asking for money, he asked for whatever clothing they could spare. Helms hired people in need - many of whom were considered unemployable - to repair damaged items and sell the donated items. The Goodwill store was born, as was Helms' philosophy of "Not charity, but a chance".


History of Goodwill Industries of WNY


1919 - 1949

Over its first decade, Goodwill provides jobs for more than 5,000 individuals,

1919: Goodwill Industries of WNY is founded by three local businessmen: Allen Hamling, Edward Read and Dr. Harvey Ott, under the auspices of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Edgar J. Helms of Boston, Massachusetts, the founder of the Goodwill movement and a close friend of Mr. Read's, provides inspiration, support and guidance. Social Relief work begins.

1920: The new agency is chartered under the New York State Charities Act on January 28, 1920 as Buffalo Goodwill Industries. Goodwill opens its first workshop, store and employment office at 372 Michigan Avenue, one of a cluster of small buildings owned by the adjacent Grace Methodist Episcopal congregation. The church's pastor, Rev. Willis S. Burton, becomes Goodwill's first Superintendent. Three persons are employed in sorting and repairing donated clothing and furniture for resale.

1920 - 23: Goodwill operations expand into nearby buildings. Home pickup of goods begins. Throughout the decade, Goodwill acts as a community center, providing educational and entertainment programs for adults and families and sponsoring clubs and dinners, The agency campaigns vigorously for slum clearance and improved living conditions for minorities, immigrants and all impoverished persons.

1923: Rev. E. T. Greene becomes second Superintendent. By year's end, arrangements are being made to transfer the buildings at Michigan and North Division Streets from Grace Methodist Episcopal to Goodwill Industries.

1927: Goodwill begins construction on a three-story brick plant at 153 North Division. (Intersection of North Division and Michigan Ave.)  At a cost of $350,000, the new building enables the agency to consolidate its merchandise handling and work shops, transport fleet, main store and offices in a single modern location. New, used and made-to-order goods are sold. From time to time over the next two decades, Goodwill Industries will also operate a bakery, a doll hospital, and a succession of small antique stores.

1928: Goodwill's new main plant opens. Shortly thereafter, Board of Directors Secretary Glenn Leighbody becomes Managing Director, a post he will hold for the next 30 years. The Board begins fund-raising to reduce the mortgage debt on the new building.

 1929: Goodwill provides over 156,000 hours of employment, and pays wages of $50,000 to workers at the Industries. Employees receive a minimum of $2.00 a day. The building campaign reaches $170,000 in pledges - preventing a financial catastrophe for Goodwill when the stock market collapses in October.

 1930: At the beginning of the year, Buffalo Goodwill’s main store is doing more business than any other Goodwill store in the U.S., serving an average of 600 customers a day. Its first branch store opens, at 564 William Street. Between November 1929 and September 1, 1932, Goodwill serves 10,000 people, 65% of whom have a disability. Wages of $179,501.55 are paid on over 725,000 man-hours of labor. Programs include barter work for goods, transient Bureau to serve homeless men, welfare meals and clothing, and the Job-for-Christmas Fund (temporary work for fathers with families). Goodwill’s workshops also accept outside commissions for the repair or restoration of dolls, sewing machines and antique furniture. The plant cafeteria serves food at cost. During the decade, Goodwill will produce a movie and air two radio programs. One features stories about “good neighbors” submitted by listeners. Community services also continue. Children are served through a glee club and year ‘round enrichment program that incudes music, games, a drama club and handcrafts such as tie dying, batiking and bead weaving. Goodwill collaborates with other agencies in local relief work, and institutes continuing education classes for its staff and workers – an innovation that is ahead of the times.

1933: Goodwill receives the first sheltered workshop permit issued in Western New York, and becomes an active member of United Charities (United Way).

1935: As federal work relief programs begin to take hold, Glenn Leighbody is influential in refocusing the national Goodwill movement on services primarily for persons with disabilities.

1937 - 38: Goodwill conducts the first survey of Western New York’s homebound handicapped and establishes a program that provides contract employment and assists interested individuals to establish themselves as entrepreneur. Through volunteers, this program also arranges outings, dinners and provides transportation to community events, enabling persons with severe disabilities to break free of their social and economic isolation. Goodwill also continues to provide dignified self-help opportunities for older workers; one master upholsterer is still actively employed in Goodwill’s workshop at age 101.

1939 - 1949: Goodwill workers contribute to victory in WWII by salvaging, sorting rivets for WNY aviation giant Curtiss-Wright. Workers prove disabilities are no handicap by keeping up with production by 40,000 non-disabled workers running three shifts/seven days at Curtiss-Wright's main plant. Goodwill pioneers rehabilitation and occupational therapy for war veterans...and is recognized by the Federal government as one of 12 – 15 agencies in the U.S. “prepared” to train persons with severe handicaps. At war’s end, the release of federal funds enables Goodwill to implement a skills training and employment program specifically for persons with severe mental, developmental and psychological disabilities.

 1950 - 2000

By 1950, persons with disabilities have become focus of most Goodwill programs, services and activities as Social Security, other government programs and the post-war employment boom reduce demand from the indigent poor, elderly and other populations previously served. The Occupational Therapy Dept. expands, evolves into the Rehabilitation Dept.; employment opportunities for “homebound” disabled are expanded and revised to aid their reintegration into the wider life of the community. The public education radio series “Promises to Keep” tells the Goodwill rehabilitation story through personal narratives; it wins a national Goodwill award. The last of Goodwill pioneering staff members reluctantly accepts state-mandated retirement at age 90 (1968). Goodwill initiates $4.5 million, 5-year community revitalization program, expands retail to nine locations in Erie and Niagara counties. In October 1996, Goodwill relocates from its historic complex on Michigan Avenue in downtown Buffalo to 1119 William Street on the city’s east side. By century’s end, Goodwill programs have widened their focus, in response to the community's need for more services to the disadvantaged. Welfare-to-Work and veterans' reintegration programs are implemented.

 2001 - 2010

2001: Goodwill establishes the Goodwill Technology Training Center (renamed the Career Technology Training Center in 2007) to help adults with disabilities, disadvantages become computer literate, prepare for jobs in information technology. The Center is first of its kind in WNY for these populations.

2002: Goodwill redevelops 8,000 square feet of space in its William Street headquarters to provide additional job and training opportunities. The Goodwill Urban Revitalization Center complex includes a Food Pantry that serves residents of the 14206 zip code, and a spacious new Goodwill Store open to the entire community. Groundbreaking collaborations with The Food Bank of Western New York and Erie Community College supplement Goodwill programs and services, enabling needy persons to access nutritional support and GED instruction together with workforce readiness training and employment services in a single location.

2005: Goodwill opens its Family Enrichment Center at 1119 William Street. This pioneering project confirms the agency’s commitment to family strengthening as an adjunct to employment success, creating a campus association of providers to deliver core employment support services collaboratively.

2006: Goodwill opens E-Commerce business line, begins posting donations of higher value and/or specialized interest on, the online auction channel of the national Goodwill movement.

2007: First LIVES collaboration with Learning Disabilities Association of WNY implemented; this collaboration was awarded funding for an additional five years in 2010.

2009: In July, Goodwill is awarded Department of Labor funding for a new Homeless Veterans Re-Integration Program, a collaboration with The WNY Veterans Housing Coalition. This program provides a comprehensive menu of assessment, training, employment, housing and support services designed to address the unique needs of individual veterans seeking to re-establish themselves in civilian society. In October, Goodwill opens its second e-commerce business line, a virtual bookshop, under the auspices of The new shop offers book lovers a choice selection of recent and vintage volumes in a wide range of categories at low set prices.

 2010: Goodwill celebrates its 90th anniversary. Homeless Veterans Re-Integration Program is awarded funding for a second year, and a second employment program serving all needy veterans is implemented with two-year funding from The John R. Oishei Foundation. In March, The Goodwill Lockport Center opens in Lockport, New York. The Center represents the first phase in a planned expansion of Goodwill services to new communities within the Western New York region. It includes an outreach office, Goodwill Store and donation center. 

*Information compiled and written by Belle Stokes, Grants Writer

2011 - 2015

2011: Long time CEO Florence Conti retires and the Trustees hire a new CEO for the first time in 13 years. Goodwill opens its eighth store in Depew, NY. Goodwill recommits to a growth strategy to increase its impact on the community and the people it serves.

2012: Goodwill opens its ninth store, a fully integrated retail outlet including a donation and processing center. The agency is selected as one of the sub grantees of Goodwill's Beyond Jobs initiative to provide job training and placement services to unemployed and underemployed women in 45 communities around the country. The agency's Contract shop earns ISO-9000, a quality management system standard designed to help organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders while meeting statutory and regulatory requirements related to a product.

2013: Goodwill, in partnership with the Veterans Housing Coalition of WNY, Inc. opens the Veterans One-stop Center of WNY, Inc., a collaboration of over 50 agencies dedicated to serving veterans and their families in a barrier free, welcoming environment where clients can access a range of services in a coordinated process that emphasizes a "warm handoff" between agencies. Goodwill opens its 10th and 11th stores in Niagara County and Genesee County, expanding the agency's geographic footprint to include three of the eight counties in Western New York, Goodwill doubles the size of its Contract workshop[ when it acquires the work and clients from the now defunct Phoenix Frontier agency. The agency is also awarded an Operation GoodJobs grant in support of an initiative that equips military veterans and their families with the tools they need to earn employment and ensure long-term financial wellness for themselves and their families.

2014: Goodwill, in partnership with other agencies including the Veterans One-stop Center, wins a Support Services for Veterans Families grant which brings $1 million in new revenue to the region to serve the area's veteran community. The agency continues its march to decentralize its donated goods processing work by moving all hard goods processing into the retail stores. The agency is awarded a NYS Department of Labor Workforce Development grant to provide advanced training opportunities to its long term unemployed clients.

2015 and beyond: Goodwill plans to continue the modernization of its Retail Operations by initiating a five-year plan to replace its existing stores with larger, free standing donation, processing, and retail outlets. The agency is working with a collaboration of agencies to dramatically improve the impact of the region's Workforce Development initiatives through the creation of a seamless process that will provide the supports individuals need to permanently break the chains of poverty. The Contracts shop begins work to transition to a fully competitive, sustainable operation that minimizes its dependence on government subsidies.
















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