At salvaged building materials store, people and the planet win

By Mai Hoang Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA — Ten years ago, it was little more than an annual garage sale featuring leftover construction materials.

Today, the ReStore is the place for Yakima Valley contractors to send materials that might otherwise end up filling the county landfill and for homeowners seeking affordable building supplies for remodeling and maintenance projects.

It also provides its operator, Yakima Valley Partners Habitat for Humanity, enough revenue to finance construction of about one home in each of the past five years. And it expects to generate even more revenue for the homes it builds in the future.

Now ReStore has opened at a new storefront at 21 W. Mead Ave., just two blocks from its previous location at 202 W. Mead Ave.

“We knew four years ago we were outgrowing the building we (were) in,” said Rich Kallenberger, 63, who has been the store’s manager since its inception and has seen an average annual increase of 25 percent in store revenue in the past five years.

The new site will have double the existing space and nearly five times the parking. The store, along, with the affiliate’s administration offices, will be housed in a building that was moved to the site after it was donated by Yakima Urology Associates from its property on 2500 Racquet Lane.

ReStore gets its building materials from contractors, hardware retailers and homeowners. Donations include everything from doorknobs to toilets, which are resold for up to half the retail price.

Almost all the store’s 20 workers are volunteers. Kallenberger gets a small stipend toward health insurance expenses, but otherwise gets no compensation.

Kallenberger estimates that its biggest base of customers — about one-third — are maintaining rental units or a home for a family member. He also sees plenty of bargain hunters.

“There have been some customers looking for certain things,” he said. “They’ll keep coming in until we have what they need.”

Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit agency that builds affordable housing for those who would otherwise be unable to buy a home, operates more than 700 ReStores in the U.S. and Canada, generating about $280 million in sales in 2008. The organization’s headquarters in Atlanta is just starting to market and track trends at a national level, said Kevin Campbell, director of building industry relations for Habitat for Humanity International.

Up to this point, ReStore has been more of a local initiative, Campbell said.

But with the growth of stores nationwide — about 100 stores total opened in 2007 and 2008 — Habitat for Humanity has begun to market the ReStore concept nationally as well as offer training to new store managers.

“We’re seeing about three to four stores open a month,” Campbell said. “That’s a good sign to us.”

Campbell said the group aspires to reach the popularity of Goodwill thrift stores, which generated about $3.3 billion in sales in 2008.

One source of ReStore’s growth, both locally and nationally, is the continuing demand for environmentally friendly or green homes.

According to the Central Washington Home Builders Association, there are about 20 new homes in Yakima, Kittitas and Klickitat counties certified as environmentally friendly under its Built Green program.

ReStore helps contractors fulfill the materials efficiency requirement, said Carly Faul, executive officer of the Central Washington Home Builders Association.

Under this requirement, not only are homes to be built with recyclable or environmentally sustainable materials, home builders must also find ways to prevent leftover materials from ending up in a landfill.

It will likely play a greater role as the association begins offering green certification for remodeling projects.

“(Contractors) are also able to send customers to the ReStore to maybe look for some unique items or products that may be at a discounted price,” Faul said.

Brice Baxter, owner of Baxter Construction LLC in Yakima, finds that most items that are replaced — while perhaps not to the customer’s current tastes — are usable.

Customers are pleasantly surprised when they find that their items aren’t heading to the dump, he said.

And his company is willing to install materials found elsewhere. A homeowner who purchases a used door at a place like ReStore can save hundreds of dollars.

“On every other job (we do) there’s useful items that somebody can use,” Baxter said. “It’s just a prudent, good business move to help others and recycle.