Restoring homes and spirits
Local Habitat for Humanity store reduces waste while providing houses for needy families
When you step inside ReStore on Park Avenue, it is difficult to see it as anything other than your average home-supply store.
On a drizzly Friday afternoon, the 5,000-square-foot warehouse in south Chico was open for business, and ReStore workers cut lumber with a saw behind the cash register as two customers browsed. Shelves were lined with fixtures, paint cans were stacked on wooden palettes and light fixtures hung from a wooden beam. An oven rested by the entrance of the store; a sink sat by the front counter.
But unlike your typical hardware store, every dollar the store earns from the sale of a toilet, paintbrush, window or any other type of home supplies is put toward building a house for a local needy family.
Local contractors, homeowners and larger supply stores donate the items for sale at ReStore, and all of the proceeds go back to Habitat for Humanity to build houses in Butte County. It’s a system that the nonprofit organization has developed in cities worldwide, and a way the organization can fund its projects while reusing resources.
Tami Ritter, executive director of Butte County Habitat for Humanity, said Habitat’s ReStores are founded on the principle of promoting sustainability.
“We try to keep new and used materials out of landfills,” Ritter said. “All of our products are donated and would otherwise be thrown out.”
But Ritter said the added bonus of the store is the fact that each dollar earned is pumped back into the organization. The store has been operating for five years and has since generated tens of thousands of dollars to offset Habitat building costs.
“Our goal is to have enough money generated a year to fund one house,” Ritter said.
With the help of volunteers, Habitat for Humanity is able to keep construction costs low. Ritter said it costs about $55,000 to build a house in Butte County. She emphasized that those who receive houses enter into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, putting in 500 hours of “sweat equity” to build their house and paying a zero-interest mortgage. Homeowners are selected based on economic need, and also on their ability to pay back the organization for their house.
Last year, ReStore netted $35,000, but Ritter said she isn’t disappointed that the organization didn’t make its target.
“We were shut down for a few months doing renovations, so it’s actually pretty remarkable that we still did earn so much,” she said.
Ritter credits ReStore manager Joe McMahan with much of the store’s success, saying he put a lot of time into revamping the business enterprise. McMahan spent time fixing up the facility’s shelving and remodeling the interior of the warehouse, making it easier for shoppers to browse.
The organization’s clientele is a mix of those in the construction industry, and people who are looking to make simple home improvements. The store’s lower prices and community benefits make it a popular alternative to corporate-owned stores.
“It has become a great resource for contractors and the general public,” McMahan said. “They are able to shop for items at a discounted price in a place that really models your typical stores.”
McMahan, who began working at ReStore about two years ago, praised businesses within the community for their donations.
“Every large building-supply company in town helps us out,” McMahan said. “We’re able to get some top-quality products from them.”
He noted that individual homeowners contribute to the inventory as well, donating odds and ends when they are finished with projects. But that doesn’t mean the supplies aren’t quality items. In fact, most of the items in the store appear brand new, and many times they are. McMahan said he makes sure every item is in good condition and able to be reused.
Since the store’s inventory is dependent on donations, the selection of products isn’t always consistent. But McMahan said that the store typically keeps popular items in stock year-round.
“We sell a lot of hardware, windows, doors and plumbing supplies,” McMahan said. “And it’s always at a better price because we get it for free.”
Customers who frequent ReStore typically are loyal patrons, some of whom donate supplies to the store as well as making purchases there.
Regular customer Heather Alexander said she can be found browsing through ReStore’s aisles on almost a weekly basis.
Alexander, who lives in Los Molinos, where she owns a pet supply and scrapbook boutique, said she first found out about the store by happenstance after noticing the business’ sign and going in to check it out. She now drives 30 minutes out of her way to purchase supplies, primarily because of ReStore’s goals.
“Of course it’s better than giving your money to a corporation,” Alexander said. “I know that my money is going to better someone else’s life. And I hate seeing all the waste we create in this country. The store is doing something to solve that.”
On this particular day, Alexander was looking for antique doors and windows. She paints personalized decorative scenes on the windows to later give as presents or sell in her shop. She also heads to the store when she needs supplies for a home project.
“This has been my little secret for such a long time. I come here for everything,” she said. “It really is one of my favorite shopping sites.”