If January is the time to start a new indoor home-improvement project, the Habitat ReStore in Schenectady is the place.
And not only that, shoppers can help people of modest means get into their own homes, as purchases support the work of the local Habitat for Humanity branch, which is dedicated to transformations, from individual living rooms to entire homes and neighborhoods. It currently has four projects underway, three of them on the city’s North Side.
“We recycle, we reuse, we reduce stuff from landfills and we use that to rebuild the community,” said John Scharf, executive director of Habitat for Humanity’s Schenectady branch.
Goods for sale
The store, run by one full-time employee and about a dozen regular volunteers, houses room after room of home goods for sale, all donated by local homeowners and builders. There are rooms of couches, tables, lamps and cabinets, as well as sinks and appliances, laminate flooring left over from local construction projects, and other odds and ends.
Scharf said that, like any other thrift store, he often helps customers find inexpensive gems to spruce up their own living spaces.
“We live in this age of customization,” he said. “[Shoppers] want the conversation piece chair or the unique lamp. People like this seasoned, lived-in look.”
He and his wife shop there, too, picking up interesting pieces that won’t leave him heartbroken when his sons inevitably run Matchbox cars across their surfaces.
“It tickles me when you see people come in and spot the exact thing they’re looking for,” he added.
But the store’s 10,000 square feet of retail space, situated on North Broadway in what was once Goldstocks Sporting Goods, is much more than a place to pick up a fixer-upper dresser. Proceeds from sales, as well as many donated items, support the construction and rehabilitation of local homes through Habitat for Humanity.
Right now, there are four in the works: three on Van Vranken Avenue and one on Schenectady Street. Of those, two are new construction and two are rehabilitations of existing homes.
“We’re helping to strengthen the backbone of Schenectady,” Scharf said. “We can also bring back some renewed life and interest.”
Mingle and learn
In addition to selling materials and raising funds, the ReStore serves as a central location for volunteers to mingle and learn.
On a recent Friday afternoon, a knot of volunteers from Niskayuna chatted at the front counter. Bill and Denise Leader, both of whom serve on the executive board of the Niskayuna Community Action Program, and Nancy Sieper, a retired librarian from Hillside Elementary School, awaited customers in matching blue Habitat vests.
Sieper retired from Hillside in 2007 and began working at Habitat in 2008. A friend of hers helped with Habitat construction projects and suggested the store might be a good place for her to spend her newfound leisure time.
“I really like the people,” she said. Though she thinks of the store as a well-kept secret, Sieper said it’s always fun when new customers discover its many rooms full of bargains and diamonds-in-the-rough.
“This stuff is coming and going all the time, and people are excited to find it,” she said.
Niskayuna residents Jonai and Joey Trumpler were among those doing some early January bargain hunting. They’re not regulars at the store, but they’ve visited a few times and typically stop in whenever they’re looking to spruce up a room. During their most recent shopping trip, they were hunting for hall tree-style furniture to update their bedroom.
“We just got our hardwood floors refinished,” Jonai said.
“This is easier than me building one,” her husband said with a laugh as they inspected a vintage table with a built-in sewing machine.
Joey said in the past they’d purchased small items like a cabinet from the ReStore, but now the layout was much neater than he’d remembered.
“They actually made it better,” he said.
That’s the sort of comment Scharf loves to hear. He’s still in his inaugural year as executive director after being hired last July, and he’s hard at work making the ReStore more attractive, neater and even larger. There are rooms in the old Goldstock’s building that haven’t been touched since the ReStore moved there from its former Foster Avenue location about four years ago.
“We have some aggressive goals for the ReStore,” Scharf said. He hopes to improve the layout and do some repairs, but more importantly, he plans to improve the store’s visibility. Scharf said he’s planning to do more local advertising in 2015, as well as hold community events that will draw people to the location.
Later this month, he plans to announce free seminars where anyone can learn construction techniques that will both empower people to work on their own homes and, hopefully, volunteer for Habitat. February will bring a do-it-yourself contest, inspired by customers who have transformed leftover windows into picture frames, assorted hardware into Christmas decorations, and china cabinets into fancy towel racks.
Finally, there’s the proverbial cherry on top: the Schenectady ReStore keeps piles of useful material out of landfills each year, according to Randy Sparrow, the store’s manager and its only employee.
“I would say 75 tons is a conservative figure,” Sparrow said. “All of this is material people can use.”
There’s also the intangible benefit of knowing a purchase has helped a new neighbor find a place to call home.
This story originally appeared in Your Niskayuna.