Business booming at Habitat ReStore

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FRANKLIN—Organizers with Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity didn’t quite know what to expect when they opened the ReStore in downtown Franklin last September.

“We have had an overwhelming response in the donations from the community and also the customers,” said Shanda Bittick, a member of the executive board and chairwoman of the Restore Committee. “It’s really exceeded our expectations.”

The ReStore supplies overstocked, discontinued, and new and used building materials donated by manufacturers, stores, contractors and individuals. The store started with an International Paper Co. grant and donations from Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.

The ReStore features furniture, electronics, appliances, fixtures, kitchenware, books and most things related to homes.

“We don’t do clothing or used mattresses,” said Jean Stephenson, another member of Habitat for Humanity’s executive board and chairwoman of the Family Selection Committee.

The donated items are either sold to the public from the ReStore at 109 W. First Ave., or used in construction for Habitat for Humanity homes.

Donations from businesses or individuals are tax-deductible. ReStores are located across the country, but Bittick said other stores often struggle to get donations; that hasn’t been a problem here.

“They have just been coming and coming and coming,” she said. “I think that this store just shows the spirit of Franklin in general.

Stephenson said it’s a great place to find bargains. New items are typically sold at about 50 percent of retail value and used items can be priced anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of retail value.

“I work for social services and I see it as a place where my clients can come and get very nice things at very affordable prices,” Stephenson said. “To me it helps everybody in the community.”

Bittick said the store is a “win-win” for everyone. Not everyone shopping the ReStore is just looking for bargains. Bittick said some people come in looking for interesting or unusual items to decorate their homes.

Frank Rickman, the store’s manager and only paid employee, said volunteers are the backbone of the store.

“I’ve worked for a lot of different charitable organizations, and I’ve never seen volunteers like the ones here,” he said.

Rickman said he was preparing to retire from his job at International Paper Co. and wanted to do something to help the community.

“What could be better than helping a family have a home?” he said.

Organizers said volunteering at the store is “addictive” and volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds including teenagers with the Southampton High School Key Club to senior citizens.

“It’s just an interesting eclectic group,” Bittick said of the volunteers.

Habitat officials are looking to expand the store’s hours. Currently it is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Wednesdays. On June 1, those hours will expand to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. By the fall, they hope to add a third day of operation.

“We want to go to the next level of opening more hours and to do that we need to expand our volunteer base,” Bittick said.

Organizers are targeting civic and church groups looking for a place to volunteer.

The Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity is preparing to build another house, “and this store has a lot to do with the funding of that,” Bittick said.

Stephenson said the home would be built on South High Street in Franklin. The home will have an interest-free mortgage, and the buyer is required to put in 300 hours of “sweat equity.”

“Our hope was to be able to find that partner family so we can go ahead and start this summer,” she said.

Rickman said working at the store is a good way to help the community as the International Paper mill shuts down.

“I don’t want to see Franklin go down because the mill is going down, and this is an opportunity to help not just Franklin, but Southampton and Isle of Wight…this whole area,” he said.

Organizers are also planning to hold a community yard sale at the store on July 24.