Baltimore County

Habitat for Humanity's ReStores spreading around Baltimore

Norma Thompson spent much of Monday dusting, polishing and sprucing up items that will fill a soon-to-open home improvement store in Halethorpe. The hours she volunteers with Habitat for Humanity's newest ReStore will help this Baltimore grandmother, who works as a housekeeper at a downtown hotel, earn a home of her own.

Each prospective homeowner must provide Habitat volunteer hours, and Thompson is doing just that at the nonprofit organization's third ReStore in the metropolitan area. She has her eye on several items that will go on sale Saturday, when the discount center opens in a Halethorpe business park. She is picturing them in the East Baltimore townhouse that she hopes will be her home sometime next year.

"I love making all this stuff look new and pretty," said Thompson, 60.

The stores support the building efforts of Habitat for Humanity, a nationwide nonprofit that provides affordable housing to income-eligible families. Judging from sales at its sister stores in Dundalk and Pasadena, the latest retail venture for the organization's Chesapeake affiliate promises to be a success. Even in a sagging economy, those two ReStores posted a 34 percent increase in sales volume in the past year.

"Most retailers would die for that kind of increase in sales," said Tim Kenney, director for ReStore at Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. "There is a growing market for restored and recycled products, especially for the do-it-yourself builder or remodeler. All we ask is that you come here first and see if we have what you need."

ReStores, which number more than 700 nationwide, sell new, surplus or gently used appliances, furniture, cabinets, flooring and building materials and turn the profits over to Habitat's building projects. Mike Mitchell, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, said the stores are building homes and saving the environment by keeping many usable items from going into a landfill.

"Every store helps us to address the housing crisis," he said. "This really is social enterprise at its best."

In 2008, the two metropolitan outlets combined to donate $1.2 million to Habitat, said Mark Bendann, chief operating officer for the local Habitat.

"Even in the worst of times, we have still managed to make a profit," he said. "The idea of recycling and green building has also been instrumental in our success."

Halethorpe seemed an ideal location for the third store, since it adjoins the offices of Habitat's Chesapeake affiliate. That office staff could be among the store's best customers.

"You can furnish your office, your home, even your home office," said Sandra Erbe, Habitat's marketing manager.

Kenney likes to show off the wares, pointing to new doors and windows, many still in their original packaging, the custom-made cabinets that customers can order and the staged room settings that appeal to the furniture shopper. He has displayed stacks of mini-refrigerators and microwaves, selling for $50 each.

"The timing could not be better," he said. "They are ideal for college dorm rooms."

Kenney often travels to building shows and follows up on close-out deals, but inventory relies heavily on donations from both businesses and homeowners.

"Call our donation line, and we will pick it up for you," Kenney said. "Or you can drop off donations at our stores."

A local university donated those microwaves. A hotel chain dropped off 150 TVs and area retirement communities are a great source of merchandise for the stores, Kenney said. Furniture and appliances are the top sellers.

"We don't fix it, but we clean it up," Bendann said. "We take commercial overstocks, slow-moving merchandise and donations from homeowners. We have hit a lot of home runs."

Customers will even find the hardware they need for the project, the paint and painting supplies and light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, carpeting and all kinds of decorating accessories. Most items sell for about 50 percent less than retail, and on Saturday for the grand opening on 3741 Commerce Drive, customers will get an additional 20 percent off on all merchandise.