| 2013 Fall | story by DAISY WAKEFIELD | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |

“We offer a wonderful place to find affordable building materials for small repairs and building projects, as well as providing a place to find unique treasures for repurposing or decorating homes and businesses,”
-Michele Johnson

Not a lot of non profits can boast that they can get Batman into their place of business. But when local mechanic Rich Johnson was building his dream Batmobile, he knew where to go to find a few parts. Lawrence ReStore was the perfect place to find metallic laminate from a metal roll top desk, which now perfectly forms the dash of the completed Batmobile.

Habitat ReStore is the go-to place for building materials, shelving, cabinets, appliances, fixtures, and a hodgepodge of items that make their way to the store on Lawrence’s east side. Items are donated, and the landscape of the store changes daily as they receive and move inventory.

The store exists as a funding mechanism for its affiliate, Habitat for Humanity (HFH). Profits from the store are channeled to help HFH’s programs for building homes for families. Last fiscal year, with over $320K in gross revenues, Lawrence Habitat ReStore was able to contribute over $100K to HFH and pay for the overhead of facility use as well as donate materials to the offices and homes under construction.

The first Habitat ReStore began in 1992 in Austin, Texas. Today, there are more than 800 ReStores operating in three countries, and some raise enough funds to build an additional 10 or more houses a year.

“Many ReStores cover the administrative costs of the Habitat affiliate so that 100% of donor funds can be put toward home construction, which is true for our local ReStore,” Michele Johnson, manager of Lawrence’s Habitat ReStore, says. “We are very proud of that!”

 untitled The ReStore benefits from individual donors, many of whom bring their leftover materials to the store after a remodeling project. KU also is a major donor, with an entire warehouse of office furnishings that ReStore’s staff peruses about once a week. Some local building contractors and remodeling companies also bring their leftover materials as donations.

Local stores that close will also bring their fixtures and other items to the store, which resulted one time in the acquisition of 27 mannequins from Talbot’s. Johnson made a window display out of them and named it “Ladies Night Out.”

The ReStore operates with two full-time and two part-time employees. About seven volunteers also come on a weekly basis, including students and student groups and aspiring Habitat homeowners who are working toward their sweat equity quota.

The ReStore attracts a wide range of customers, from people looking for household goods, to artists looking for a unique piece, to store owners looking for display shelving and fixtures. Some customers who are remodeling a room or even a home will come to the ReStore frequently over a length of time, picking up a piece here and there, to do their project with all reclaimed materials. Johnson and her husband (yes, the other Johnson — the Batmobile creator), rebuilt their home in an old barn red iron structure out of materials they were able to glean from the ReStore.

“I was able to get so much from the ReStore — windows, cabinets, lighting, trim, shelving, vanities, unique furniture. Parts of the Lawrence library are a part of my windowsills.”

Because of the ever-changing inventory of the store, some customers come in almost daily to peruse its contents. For awhile, the bulletin board had pictures of people who belonged to “ReStore Anonymous.” Some artists come in for their muse, and up-cyclers and re-purposers also come in looking for the basis of their next project. At the front of the store, there is a binder of project ideas from magazines and actual projects from customers who have found things at the ReStore and re-purposed it.

Sometimes the ReStore gets things that even they don’t know what it is. Those are the things they put in the front of the store, and watch people as they puzzle over the piece
As much as the ReStore is fulfilling a need in funding HFH, as well as providing the community with a venue for buying materials at 50% or less of retail price, it is also an important community piece in reusing and repurposing things that still have life in them. Last year, the ReStore diverted 300 tons of materials that would have gone to a landfill.

“We offer a wonderful place to find affordable building materials for small repairs and building projects, as well as providing a place to find unique treasures for repurposing or decorating homes and businesses,” Johnson says. “Plus we’re just a really friendly place. That’s what a few people really come in for.” ■

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