The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 17, 2013

Habitat's ReStore busting at the seams

Nonprofit trying to slim down on stuff until new building is done

By Robb Murray
The Mankato Free Press

---- — It was a good problem to have, really. ReStore, Habitat for Humanity’s store for recycled goods, has become so successful, has had such an impact on the community, that it is now nowhere near big enough to hold all the stuff it wants to sell.

Because of this, it has looked for storage in some non-traditional locations.

For example, some of their stuff is sitting in a vacant bowling alley in Lake Crystal. More still is in an old bank in Eagle Lake. A good chunk is sitting in a warehouse in lower North Mankato. And last week they held a sale at the former Minnesota Valley Action Council building to get rid of some of the bigger inventory that didn’t fit inside their store.

Their goal is to find a way to get that stuff out of storage and into a place where it can make money for Habitat.

“We’re not going to make any money on a product if it’s sitting in a bowling alley in Lake Crystal,” said Julie Schmillen, Habitat’s executive director.

They’re in the middle of a capital campaign right now to build a new ReStore across the street from the current one. But until that happens, they’re trying other ways of getting rid of stuff.

Last week the ReStore closed for a day as employees and volunteers moved as much stuff as possible to the former MVAC store for a sale. By the time it was over, they’d earned $3,000 at the former MVAC site warehouse sale and an additional $3,000 at the main ReStore.

They’re also very happy about a big donation they’ve recently received. Anne Chesley Herlihy gave Habitat for Humanity of Mankato $150,000, saying the organization could spend the money however it sees fit. Schmillen said her board of directors voted to use the money on the capital campaign.

Chesley’s donation — the biggest they’ve ever received — puts their capital campaign thermometer at about $475,000, much closer to their goal of $1.5 million.

That new store is still a couple of years away. But when it comes, it will be twice the size of the current ReStore. With twice the space, Schmillen said she hopes it will have twice the impact. The ReStore’s success has allowed Habitat to build an additional house, which helps families struggling financially get into a home. Schmillen estimates they’ll be able to do two additional houses instead of one.

The size if the current store, in fact, has resulted in employees turning down donations that could have netted the store thousands.

Fred Snyder, manager of the store, said he was once offered a large amount of trim work and molding from a construction company — enough that would have filled the current store — but they just had nowhere to put it.

“It was painful,” Snyder said of saying no to that donation. “It’s tough saying no to something that’s right in your wheelhouse.”

Snyder says the time is right for a new building. The Mankato store is the fourth largest market in the state, but it has the second smallest building of the four existing ReStores in the state.

The ReStore concept, meanwhile, has blossomed in the last 10 years. The Mankato store opened in 2007, a time when there were roughly 200 ReStores operating nationwide. Today there are more than 800 stores. Plus, Habitat for Humanity is now trying to manage the branding of the stores and is mandating that any new store be 10,000 square feet. The Mankato store is 7,700 square feet.

Growth, Snyder said, has come from the community’s generosity.

“When we look at what is our best asset,” he said, “it’s simply where we are. Greater Mankato.”