Tuesday, January 29, 2013
WALLA WALLA — The castaways are great in number at the Builders ReSupply Store.
Windows, cabinets, light fixtures, doors, toilets, sinks, tile, shutters, blinds, vent covers, foam pipe insulation, nuts, bolts, cables, hinges, bits of carpet, even sandpaper.
Perhaps not everything needed to build a house. But plenty to dress one with the collective donations from contractors and homeowners, and resold at half or less of the cost to buy new.
The latter was a pleasant surprise to a first-time customer on a January afternoon when he discovered a frosted light fixture with brush nickel trim would only cost $7.
“Really?!” he celebrated.
But it’s not the prices that have manager Tabitha Schwartz most excited. Or even the amount of items that cycle in and out of the retail store on Lockheed Avenue at the Walla Walla Regional Airport industrial park complex. It’s the weight.
Around the end of December the inventory at the Builders ReSupply totaled around 11 tons. It’s a hefty volume of items to offer thrift-hungry shoppers for home improvement projects.
More importantly it’s that much in weight the store and its users are keeping out of the landfill, Schwartz said.
“Our main purpose is trying to reduce that number,” she explained, stepping around shop dog Blaze to meander through the inventory.
Opened in 2010 the Builders ReSupply is a branch of the Sustainable Living Center, the nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation, utilization of sustainable energy resources and community awareness.
In 2009, the Sustainable Living Center gleaned information from contractors regarding use of the landfill and discovered the operation had received about 200 tons of usable dimensional lumber and nearly 400 tons of building materials — faucets, fixtures, windows and more — along with 200 tons of concrete.
The waste was far beyond the material items that weren’t being used. It extended to the fees paid to dispose of the materials and the costs associated with maintaining the landfill.
The store was a solution to all of those things: provide a place for dropping off materials free of charge, offering an opportunity for their reuse and keeping them from the landfill.
Located in an out-of-the-way Port of Walla Walla building you have to intend to get to, the volunteer-run operation has caught fire with consumers as a drop-off point for their excess home goods. It’s profile with contractors also continues to build.
But until last September, operators didn’t yet have a clear grasp of how much a difference it was actually making.
Schwartz, an Atlanta native, came on board through the AmeriCorps program and immediately began a reorganization.
Physically and with the dogged help of a five-volunteer crew, the store was organized by item — hardware in one spot, filing cabinets all uniform in another, and so on.
She also began logging every item received, as well as what was already there. Each week she updates. The changeover also included the introduction of credit card processing.
Items as small as screws and washers to as large as appliances are accepted. Even broken windows won’t be turned away, Schwartz said.
Things that can’t necessarily be resold as is can always be dismantled and re-purposed or recycled.
“People come in here looking for all sorts of things,” she said. “If we reject a lot nothing creative will ever come out of it.”
The items stay until they’re bought. Case in point: Just last month Schwartz sold a blue fabric light fixture that had been in the shop from the beginning.
Any money made through the store goes back to the Sustainable Living Center’s efforts.
Volunteer Gary Mabley said it doesn’t take long for newcomers to familiarize with the program. He and the other volunteers who log at least three hours a week at the store, recognize regulars.
“Some people have definite ideas of what they’re looking for. Some people just window shop,” Mabley said.
As word spreads, more and more people are catching on to the idea, added volunteer Gareth Clausen. He’s seen customers from as far as Joseph, Ore., and heard of another who came from Washtucna, Wash.
Contractors, too, are becoming more familiar with the operation. Not long ago one of them dropped off eight or nine file cabinets as part of an office remodel project, Clausen said.
Selling some of the items can be tricky, Schwartz said. The store has a glut of doors, for instance. They’re not always an easy sell because they all have specific dimensions. Such items can, however, be re-purposed.
Schwartz has compiled an idea binder for creative reuses — cabinet drawers turned into shelves, old doors turned into desktops, windows that become wall hangings.
Clausen said one man once bought a solid core door he intended to use as a separation for his sow and piglets.
“We’re a good source for all that,” he said.
Schwartz said she tries to track down the retail value of each item new. Depending on the condition, the pieces are marked anywhere from 50 to 75 percent down from that.
Schwartz will remain in her position until July 15, when he contract through AmeriCorps ends.
The environmental studies graduate, who has made her first venture west after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, said building the operation into a well known retail outlet in the community is one of her main goals, aside from the organization that’s been done.
As word spread, the concept continues to catch on. The community is already ahead of her hometown, which has no recycling program.
“This small town of Walla Walla is way more progressive,” she said.