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The Darkroom

Inside Second Chance, Baltimore's treasure trove of repurposed home decor

Karl Merton Ferron
The Baltimore Sun

Weaving its way through an industrial section of South Baltimore, a freight train blows its whistle, whose tune bellows above the chatter of shoppers and visitors within the walls of the Second Chance Inc. warehouse. Visitors drift out of a cold, bright showroom floor and into the gray sky, which darkens at the garage door as customer Joe Karlak's large, calloused hands grip cords while Second Chance workers help slowly ease his newly purchased 800-pound marble tabletop into the family pickup truck.

Kariak's wife, Nicole in den Bosch, bristles as the 9-foot piece, which had been damaged earlier, is finally nestled for transportation to their 1871-era farmhouse outside Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore. The family of four has made regular trips for bargains, some of the many visitors throughout the Mid-Atlantic region who flock to Second Chance, a 200,000-square-foot warehouse which sells reclaimed or repurposed items. Second Chance has become an addicting weekend destination.

Parking is on Ridgely Street, a dead-end road that parallels Russell Street, which becomes the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Visitors walk beneath the enormous south-facing wall basked in an early spring sunlight. "WHAT IS AND WHAT CAN BE" greets visitors, an inspiring phrase painted in orange and black as a "Love Letter to Baltimore," by street artist Steve Powers. Inside the un-air-conditioned warehouse is a treasure trove of reclaimed furniture, doors, appliances, stained glass and traditional windows,4-foot-tall heads of David fragments by Michelangelo, and even the old signage from the demolished Bel-Loc Diner of Towson.

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit which trains and employs people who have had difficulty being hired, Second Chance gets most items from donations and demolitions, what they describe as, "deconstruction." One such project is the gutting of a two-story home in Bethesda once owned by an attorney. Donning masks and eyewear, a work crew uses power saws, crowbars and brute strength, pulling out oak flooring, appliances and ceramic fixtures before the emptied residence would be leveled to make way for the construction of a modern home. Dust flies as the team works feverishly, extracting items of value, stacking piles high of building materials, fixtures, and even old toys and trinkets. The rest — debris, broken pieces and otherwise unsalvageable building material — becomes a massive basement pile of rubble, which stays for later demolition.

Items that are accepted by the company get assessed for value and tagged, eventually placed on the warehouse floor, usually with a sliding scale of value as time passes. So far in 2019, the company claims that they have diverted almost 2,464,000 pounds of items from landfills in the area.

Although the marble top was damaged, Nicole and Joel were still happy with the steep discount to $225, from the original asking price of $850. The couple can't wait to install it. "It's gonna be so killer in that space," Nicole beamed, as the family added an antique sewing machine before making their twilight 70-mile trek home.

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