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‘ReStoring’ Leftovers to Life

The ReStore in Hybla Valley turns donated building goods into funding for Habitat for Humanity.

Behind Gold’s Gym in the Mount Vernon Crossroads shopping center is a 16,000-square-foot warehouse with no air conditioning and a wide variety of home-improvement goods, all for sale at 50 percent of retail price or less. But this is no back-alley black market.

This is a ReStore, one of many such operations run by Habitat for Humanity, where developers, contractors, homeowners and real estate agents can donate new or gently used goods for a tax write-off, rather than paying to have them disposed of. The items are then sold to the general public for as little as 10 percent of retail price, and all proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to affordable housing.

On a hot August afternoon, ceiling fans stir the stuffy air over aisles labeled similarly to those in any Home Depot: Paint, Windows, Plumbing, Appliances …. On one wall of the warehouse is written in four-foot letters the motto, "Restore, Recycle, Renew." Across from the checkout is a tower built of Canac cabinets. More of the cabinets are in storage. In fact, $90,000 worth of the cabinets was donated last month by the developer Kettler Services Inc., amounting to the largest donation the ReStore has received to date.

The BE&K Building Group, contracted by Kettler to build its One Metropolitan Park condominium tower in Arlington, introduced Kettler to the ReStore when a design change in the project called for cabinets different than those that had already been purchased, said Kettler spokesperson Cassie Cataline.

Now that Kettler is familiar with the store, Cataline said the company would "most definitely" donate future leftovers.

With donations coming in every day, and often in large quantities, the ReStore’s selection of goods is in constant flux, said store manager Herb Campbell. Recently, he said, the store received 25 pallets of bricks. "And we found people who needed those bricks."

Campbell said the store’s clientele is as diverse as its inventory, with bargain hunters ranging from homeowners of limited means to contractors to antique collectors. "We get antiques all the time," he said. The store’s advertising comes primarily in the form of word-of-mouth, but Campbell said about 4,000 customers visit the operation each week, with some coming from as far away as Ashburn.

All of this is in spite of the fact that the store is tucked away behind a shopping center. Campbell, who has managed the Mount Vernon ReStore since it opened in October of 2005, said the site was chosen because of the high traffic volume on nearby Richmond Highway. He started off with a 10-foot moving truck but business now requires him to have an additional 26-foot trailer truck.

"There’s a lot of need in the area," said Campbell, noting that building reconstruction is abundant in Northern Virginia, and the area has no shortage of people in need of low-cost goods. After last summer’s floods, which hit nearby Alexandria especially hard, "we helped a lot of people who didn’t have the means to go out and just buy new stuff," he said.

Campbell said the store made about $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity last year, and he added that he expected to pass that mark this year. At Habitat groundbreakings and home-openings, he said, "you see where your hard work goes."

Bob Valone, who lives nearby, said he started volunteering at the store at least two days a week after he retired from the engineering industry. "I enjoy helping people, and it’s a good cause," he said. With only three paid employees, the ReStore relies heavily on volunteers. However, Valone is also a customer and was at the store that afternoon to pick up a purchase.

Thomas Winborne, a Mount Vernon resident and Dominion Power employee, said he shops at the ReStore on a daily basis. "I’m getting ready to knock my house down and rebuild it, and I’m going to use all the stuff I bought here," said Winborne. He said he had filled two garages with ReStore purchases, among them about 25 cabinets, an ice box, a stove, a dishwasher and a trash compactor — all in matching cherry wood — as well as 30 windows, bathroom fixtures and decorative columns.

Larry Walker said he lives in Fort Washington, Md., but stops by the ReStore about three times a week on the way home from his information technology job in Springfield. Walker said he has begun investing in real estate, and the properties he has acquired often need some reconstruction or appliances. He noted that he had purchased cabinet sets, plumbing, electrical supplies, hardwood flooring, lighting, fans, an air conditioning unit and a furnace at the store. "The last thing I bought was a stackable washer and dryer," he said. "They look great."

At the ReStore, he said, persistence pays off. "Eventually, you will find what you need. It’s just a matter of, how much time do you have?" He said he had waited about four and a half months for a stackable washer and dryer set before a load of them recently arrived. "I’m going to pay more for labor than for the actual units," said Walker.