Something old begets something new: Habitat for Humanity store aims to recycle items, raise money for homes

A home store – which aims to build new homes for low-income people through its proceeds – has opened in Kensington.

The former Lomax Carpet Warehouse on Jasper Street is now Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s ReStore. The 19,000 square-foot building is filled with donated building supplies and home furnishings. (Note: There is an architectural salvage store, also called ReStore, in Port Richmond. It is not affiliated with Habitat for Humanity.)

It’s good news all around, said Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia Executive Director Frank Monaghan: Donors get a tax break. Buyers get a bargain. Habitat earns money. Usable items are saved from the landfill.

Habitat ReStore Director Gail Lankford, who formerly managed a high-end furniture chain store in Bucks County and was regional training director, says the goal is to generate enough money to cover all of Habitat’s administrative costs and purchase some of the building materials that Habitat volunteers and home-owner families use to build houses. Other Habitat ReStores across the country have managed it, said Operations Manager Mark Tebben. Denver, for example, takes in $2.5 million a year, $1 million of which is pure profit.

It was the opportunity to sell home building supplies and “beautiful things” at affordable prices that brought Lankford to ReStore. After the recession hit, “I wanted to get out of the for-profit world,” she said. “I was tired of selling to people who could afford a $5,000 sofa like it was nothing.” So she looked for a non-profit job where she could put her retail and interior design skills to use.

Director Lankford talks about the new store

What’s in the store

A pink pedestal sink costs $59.

A pair of ornate, dark-wood dressers with round mirrors cost $399 each.

A 24-piece used kitchen cabinet set that Lankford estimates was $20,000 new costs $1,999.

Exterior doors of many colors, materials and sizes range from $10 to $450.

Couches start at $99 and peak at $499 – which gets you a sectional with a sleeper and two-built in recliners.

And there are a whole lot of toiletries, toys, household cleaners and greeting cards for $.50 each or $5 for an entire shopping bag full – an out-of-business dollar store donated its entire inventory. “We’ve sold $1,000-worth of bags in two weeks,” Tebben said.

Building supplies, doors and windows, appliances, cabinets and furniture are always coming in, Lankford said. For those who enjoy the hunt, there are sometimes more unusual items, currently including a gas fireplace with mantel, a leather camel figurine, and an entire curio cabinet full of crystal.

Brand new items – some of which have been donated by Lowe’s and Home Depot – are priced at about 50 percent of retail value. Used item prices are adjusted downward accordingly, Tebben said. All used items must be in good condition. Furniture cannot have pet damage, stains or tears, for example. (See a list of accepted donations and guidelines here.) Items are also inspected for other signs of trouble – including bedbugs – and are vacuumed and sterilized with Steri-fab, which kills insects, Lankford said.

Picking up donations

Businesses and individuals often drop off donations, but if something won’t fit in a car, ReStore will fetch it in their donated cargo van. That’s where Donation Specialist Dan Crawford, 32, and a team of volunteers, come in.

Volunteer Liberati describes how he became a volunteer

One day this week, Crawford, accompanied by volunteer Don Liberati, 36, collected a bathtub and a bathroom vanity from a South Philadelphia man who was renovating; a wooden entertainment center and a television from a South Philadelphia couple whose needs had outgrown it; two dressers, an air conditioner and a bookcase from a Center City graduate student who was moving; and a collection of bathroom vanities and never-used kitchen cabinets that were being removed to make way for a new guest bathroom near Rittenhouse Square.

“Somebody could use this stuff,” said Johannes Reisert, 42, of the vanity and tub he helped Crawford and Liberati take to the truck. His girlfriend went looking for an organization that would accept them, and found ReStore on the web.

Neuroscience grad student Amy Gleichman, 28, said she likes what Habitat does, and donating items for the store to sell was a way that she could help that mission. “I don’t have enough flexible income to donate to charities, but I can pitch in this way,” she said.

The kitchen cabinets and bath vanities from the Rittenhouse condo were donated at the suggestion of architect Chris Carter, a partner at John Milner Architects.

Carter personally donates to Habitat for Humanity, and said there is a ReStore near her South Jersey home. She was pleased to learn a store had opened in Philadelphia. “It is a great way to recycle perfectly usable building materials, from an ecological standpoint,” she said. “The fact that it helps to fund additional projects for Habitat for Humanity is just a bonus.”

Carter said she and other architects frequently come across situations where usable items are discarded because they don’t fit in with a client’s style, and she will “absolutely” suggest owners donate such items to ReStore.

The key will be ensuring that donating requires little effort, and that donors can choose to remain anonymous, she said.

After four-hours of moving heavy furniture, fixtures and cabinetry, Crawford, the donation specialist, and Liberati, the volunteer, were tired and sweaty. Liberati recently left his job in the midwest to move back near family and friends in Philly, and he spends a lot of the hours between job-hunting on Crawford’s truck. Both men joked they do not need a gym membership.

Crawford tells his story.

While physically difficult, Crawford said his job has been incredibly rewarding.

When he was 14, his mom moved their family into a Habitat-built home. Homeowners, who get interest-free mortgages, are required to invest sweat equity (current requirement: 350 hours) before their family is accepted into the program. While Crawford’s mom had never picked up a hammer, she came home from her first day of laboring feeling very proud – and he was proud, too.

Crawford’s mom, who was then a cook, earned a nursing degree and has since moved out of the area. He now lives in the house.

Crawford, now 32, said working for Habitat has not only given him a chance to work for an organization whose work improved his family’s life, but it is his first “real job.”

Previously, Crawford worked at night clubs, and, for a time, owned one. He’s worked odd jobs and has experienced unemployment. Crawford framed the stub from his first Habitat paycheck. “I had never received a paycheck before – I was always paid in cash,” he said.

Donations are picked up on a strict time schedule, for the donor’s convenience. During a few extra minutes between stops, Crawford stopped by a Point Breeze Habitat construction site where a group of new homes are being built by a few staffers and a team of volunteers.  At one home, set to be finished by Thanksgiving, site supervisor Cassie O’Connell said special attention was paid to accessibility, because the owner’s child is in a wheelchair.

O’Connell talks about an under-construction Habitat house
The shoppers

The store had a soft opening in late July. Some neighborhood residents have discovered it, and others are beginning to through word-of-mouthion communicat, Lankford said. Saturdays, she said, are the busiest days. Sometimes, there’s a rush at 4 p.m. The official grand opening takes place Saturday, Sept. 10, from 9 to 4 p.m.

A few customers came in the early afternoon PlanPhilly was in the store. One man, who didn’t want his name to be used, said he’s a regular. His cart contained mostly items from the former dollar store, including toys, scarves and gloves. “I’ll put some of this away until it gets cold, and then give it to people who need it,” he said.

ReStore director Lankford said appliances and kitchen cabinets have been among the most popular items.  “We’ve had at least five complete kitchens done with things purchased here,” she said. “We are waiting for the before-and-after pictures.”

It’s been most gratifying to see people who drop off donations coming back to shop, and shoppers coming back to donate, Lankford said of the cycle for success.


About Restore:
Location: 2930 Jasper Street, Kensington.
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm Thursday and Friday; 9am to 4 p.m. Saturday
Grand opening: Sept. 10.
To schedule a pickup or ask about the store or a particular item  you’re looking for, call 215-739-9300.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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