Celebrating 30 Years of Turning Gently Used Donations into Affordable Homes
By Ariane Kjellquist
Furniture splayed across Asheville curbs on trash day and rumblings about a thrift store model in the Habitat world spurred former Executive Director Lew Kraus to develop a business proposal for the Board of Directors. That was in March of 1990. Just five months later, in August 1990, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (then named WNC Habitat for Habitat) opened a furniture resale store at 9 Biltmore Avenue, downtown. The Home Store as it was called, was one of the first Habitat retail stores in the country and today it’s one of the highest performing stores out of more than 800 Habitat ReStores!
After a decade in the downtown location, and having purchased a truck to pick-up donations, hired staff to run the retail store (including former managers Howard Trimble and later Jay Sloan), enlisted volunteer support, and established strong brand recognition, it was time for a bigger space.
Thanks to a donation of an old carpet warehouse in Biltmore Village by the Pearlman family, the stage was set for a big operational increase. After a capital campaign to renovate the donated building, the Home Store relocated to 31 Meadow Road in 2003, where it remains today. With triple the retail space, a huge basement for processing donations, a covered parking area and donation drop-off lane, and offices, Meadow Road represented the next chapter. Sales increased exponentially enabling the affiliate to serve twice as many families.
The thrift store scene flourished in Asheville and the Home Store became a destination. In 2005, volunteer Alan Williams started a bi-monthly Silent Auction, which became a signature feature and developed a loyal following. In 2019, proceeds from the Silent Auction surpassed the $1M mark!
A Deconstruction program, led by Paul Reeves (now Director of Construction Services) was added in 2008, offering homeowners and contractors an affordable option for removing kitchen cabinets, appliances, bathroom fixtures, and more – and ensuring they’d be reused instead of tossed in the landfill. A steady supply of building supplies and appliances grew with the Deconstruction program and gave shoppers another reason to shop the Home Store before heading to a big box retailer. While this was great for business and great for the community, this inventory was starting to pose a problem. Taking up more and more space in the covered parking garage, this merchandise was encroaching on space intended for donation drop offs and parking. This was just one indication that a relocation or renovation was needed.
And so began the next chapter – Building a Way Home capital campaign. Funding enabled us to enclose the covered parking area and convert it to strictly retail space, aka the Lower Showroom. A parking lot was added and most significantly, the adjacent Southern Railway building was purchased. The administrative offices moved next door, conference room spaces were built out, and a large warehouse was remodeled to house Habitat’s home building materials. Former Mayor Terry Bellamy and Larry Gluth, a Habitat for Humanity International VP, participated in the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled store on September 10, 2011. It was then that the name changed from Home Store to ReStore.
Longtime Manager Jay Sloan retired in 2014, passing the reigns to Assistant Manager Scott Stetson. Stetson continued to grow sales, optimize sales space, expand pick-ups, partner with other agencies including Green Opportunities and MANNA, and much more. Today, Jeff Bridgman is the Asheville ReStore Manager.
The most recent chapter of this story is marked by the addition of a second Asheville Habitat ReStore location. On August 24, 2019, the Asheville Habitat ReStore in Weaverville celebrated its grand opening and has been bustling every day since. Located on Weaver Blvd. and managed by long-time Habitat staffer Susan Haynes, the store offers much of the same product – furniture, housewares, art, building supplies, and appliances – as the flagship store in Asheville.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 precludes us from hosting a big event and sale for the 1-year anniversary of the Weaverville store and the 30-year anniversary of the Asheville ReStore. But we know there will be many more milestones to celebrate going forward because Asheville is a creative, environmentally-aware, caring and supportive community. By continuing to support the Asheville ReStores as shoppers, donors, and volunteers, you will continue to support affordable housing in our region – because ReStore proceeds help fund Habitat’s building programs. Thank you for being part of the Asheville Habitat ReStore story; we look forward to writing the next chapter with you!
To see a photo essay of this story, click here.