Consumers find treasures at Habitat for Humanity ReStore shops

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Shelly Birkelo
Sunday, January 12, 2014

For Val Saxer of Janesville and Mary Juday of Fort Atkinson, shopping at the Habitat for Humanity Rock and Jefferson County ReStore shops is all about the green.

More specifically, it's about saving the environment while saving money.

ReStores are “nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price,” according to the Habitat for Humanity website.

Proceeds from those sales are used to build new Habitat houses.

In the months since ReStores opened in Janesville and Fort Atkinson, business has grown steadily.

“We doubled our sales in 18 months after starting and by 30 percent during the worst of the economy in Rock County,” said Dave Thomas, director of the local Habitat branch.

Along with raising money for the organization, the stores keep potentially useful items out of local landfills. Thomas said almost 6 tons of materials were “repurposed” in its first 90 days the Janesville store was open.

And then there's the cost savings.

At the group's Janesville store, Saxer bought a porcelain drop-in sink that she coupled with a vintage cupboard she found at a consignment store. She paid $10 for the sink, estimating a new one would have cost about $70, and installed the completed unit in the guest bathroom of the historic home she is restoring.

Along with the sink, Saxer bought a screen door with interchangeable glass and screen. She valued the door at $150, but she paid only $35. Now she's on the lookout for a vintage light fixture and flooring.

Juday found her treasures at the Fort Atkinson ReStore, where she and her husband, Dan, volunteer. Along with a set of furniture feet that she mounted onto an old trunk to create a unique nightstand, Juday found an old pantry door that now serves as a kitchen rack.

Juday transformed a $5 light fixture into a terrarium, and she paid $95 for a pedestal sink, $5 for a piece of bead board and $5 for some unfinished cabinet doors for the front of an old oak beverage bar. Her next project will be made from glazed handmade tiles from Italy that she purchased for 10 cents apiece.

According to Thomas, between 50 and 60 customers stop at the Janesville ReStore each week. In Fort Atkinson, the number is between 100 and 130.

Staff at the stores has become so intrigued by customers' repurposing projects that they have started ReStore brag boards to share pictures of them.

“It really gives people and idea of what they can do,” Thomas said.

While the original concept behind the ReStore shops was to divert useful items from landfills, they've also proved useful to families interested in making upgrades to their homes at a reasonable price.

Thomas said the trend of repurposing/recycling through Habitat's ReStores is one that likely will grow more popular.

ReStore items come from local stores, box stores and people conducting home renovations. Volunteers also pick up washers and dryers that are considered still usable.

“(The ReStores are) an outlet that allow people who don't want to throw serviceable items into the landfill an opportunity to donate to a nonprofit that benefits from it,” Thomas said.

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