Reuse and restore: Recycling quality merchandise helps out charity
Walking into the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store on High Point Road is like stepping into some remaindered furniture market that is both a museum of kitsch and a tribute to the solid craftsmanship of the Piedmont’s once-thriving furniture industry.
Take the $65 faded white Thomasville dresser and mirror combo, made of synthetic wood with gold painted trim. Or the high-backed stained wood barstools on display near the entrance. The centerpiece has to be the $195 table with the thick glass top and faux marble stand that oozes 1980s southern California porn-chic. The furniture selection is varied, ranging from fine upholstered sofas for under a hundred bucks to futons, from austere straight-backed chairs to overstuffed easy chairs.
The Re-Store operates on roughly the same principle of Christian charity as thrift stores such as Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. People who want to get rid of stuff that’s outlived its usefulness can donate it to the store, and the revenues from resale support worthy causes ‘— in Habitat’s case, building homes for low-income residents. What sets the Re-Store apart is that, for the most part, the merchandise is quality, not scuffed, battered or flimsy.
‘“We take donated goods that would otherwise end up in the landfill,’” general manager Bill Gault says. ‘“The money goes to Habitat. And we offer value. No matter what walk of life you come from, there’s something here for you.’”
The Re-Store is neither the last-ditch home furnishing resort for the desperate poor nor a place at which rich folks should turn up their noses. The store offers deals for the whole socioeconomic spectrum.
The highest-priced item is a $995 dining set. On the low end, one can purchase a wobbly child’s dresser with superhero stickers half rubbed off for ten bucks. In between: kitchen tables with swivel chairs for $95, wooden fireplace frames for $150, a banged-up coffee table for ten dollars and a $50 love seat.
‘“The good stuff doesn’t last,’” Gault says. ‘“It goes the next day or two. We had these nice kitchen cabinets, and they were gone right away.’”
On a Thursday afternoon, the store hums with life. Latina immigrant women examine stacks of plates. Two African-American women peruse bathroom light fixtures. A white teenager with shaggy brown hair checks out the dressers with his mother.
Although the clientele tends toward savvy adults in their middle years, there are some funky pieces that barber stand with cracked black pleather padding (15 bucks), and a white faux marble ‘swivel table’ with two leaves on a single spoke that spread out like butterfly wings. The wildest find for me was a homemade, low-to-the-floor plaster table with a chessboard of blue and green tiles arranged in the middle. Four black tiles set off the corners, containing a moat of plaster-embedded marbles, dice and dominoes.
But Roosevelt Perkins, the 53-year-old principal of Cummings High School in Burlington, probably typifies the average Re-Store customer more than any ironic Gen-Xer.
Perkins was shopping in the store’s hardware section for material to build an outdoor combination potting shed and sewing room for his wife. One thing that distinguishes Habitat in the second-hand market is its line of hardware supplies. Bins contain 25-cent light switches, doorknobs, handles, ornamental hinges and various light fixtures ‘— all packaged and fastidiously organized. The entire section was donated by Liberty Hardware when it changed to a different line of business, according to Gault.
‘“This morning I found some beautiful ornate outside lights,’” Perkins says. ‘“I also found this stage light that I’m going to put in my wife’s potting house.’”
Perkins describes himself as a ‘tinkerer’ who gets pleasure from household projects that take his mind off the stresses of education. Given a couple hours in the Re-Store, the principal ‘— who possesses a finger-crushing handshake ‘— is like a kid who’s been told he can spend the entire day at recess.
‘“My wife is real patient with me,’” he says. ‘“I don’t have many vices, but this is one of them. Sometimes when I come here looking for something, it’s like it was just waiting for me. It’s crazy. I always say when I leave: ‘Yes, I found something I really needed.””
Toni Garrett, who snags a bathroom light fixture, echoes that appraisal.
‘“It’s a surprise,’” she says. ‘“It’s an adventure. You always find something you need.’”
Perkins loves the moral elegance of the store’s trade.
‘“You always know the money’s going to help people,’” he says. ‘“You get something out of it both ways. I really like what Habitat stands for. Homeownership is what every citizen in this country strives for.’”
The good Christians at Habitat for Humanity help people attain the dream of homeownership, along with reliable transportation and all the accessories of a low-rent bohemian lifestyle. Consider the options:
‘• Two donated cars. One, a 1985 Toyota Corolla sedan with 112,000 miles that is priced at $995, is undoubtedly a grandma car that received immaculate treatment. Another vehicle, a 1990 Dodge Caravan, would be perfect for hauling a drum set and a couple of amps around for your punk band’s regional tour. The price? A grand.
‘• Three Compaq Deskpro desktop computers marked down from $275 to $225, advertised as ‘“internet ready.’” Great for your new guerilla marketing business.
‘• A mob of gigantic microwaves priced at $15, from the era when you were supposed to be able to cook a five-course dinner in the microwave and the kitchen stove was thought to be on the brink of extinction.
‘• Several fake Christmas trees priced at $5. Be prepared for Christmas 2005 months in advance, and grab the deal of the century.
‘• A Calypso drink holder, a gimmicky innovation of the 1980s that sticks to your dashboard and absorbs shocks to keep your coffee from spilling during your morning commute. Or suitable cases for your old cassettes and VHS tapes.
My haul: a $45 set of bookshelves, a twelve-dollar floor lamp, a two-dollar house plant stand and a pair of wine glasses at a buck each. Add in $20 to pay someone to haul the shelves and the whole deal came to a little more than $75. Sweet.