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Asheville ReStore Leaders Reflect on Past

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By Klesa Ausherman

The ReStore team is made up of world class, top-notch doers. All day, every day, they’re in constant motion- receiving, cleaning, and sorting donations; moving items to the sales floor (and we’re talking BIG items ya’ll); assisting customers with purchases, hauling and loading items into vehicles- BUSY with a capital B. Store manager Jeff Bridgman and assistant manager Scott Bianchi can be found at any time wherever the most urgent need has sprung up. You’ll rarely find them at their desks, even though there is plenty of work to keep them there. With the advent of a pandemic and the loss of hundreds of weekly volunteers, Jeff and Scott have found themselves with many additional hats to wear- such as standing outside the ReStore entrance to ensure the safety of shoppers and staff by asking to everyone to follow safe shopping guidelines before entering the store. To say the least, management as well as the rest of the ReStore team have found themselves in markedly different working conditions since the ReStore reopened in May.

However, amidst the busyness of the days, when a request was sent out for memories and reflections from the last 30 years of business, Jeff and Scott responded right away.

Scott Fishing

Scott Bianchi (far right) “fishing” (a pre-pandemic photo)

Scott Bianchi joined the Asheville ReStore team in 2007. He began as a Truck Driver, then worked as the Lower Showroom Supervisor before becoming Assistant Manager last year. He also currently serves on the ReStore Societal Impact Committee. Scott is an amazing advocate for his team. He is direct and honest, without an ounce of hot air or fluff to be found in his demeanor. His “what you see if what you get” attitude is respected by his team, as it also comes with a strong work ethic and willingness to get the job done. As a long-time and well-rounded team member, his reflection on the last 30 years is unique.

My memories of the last 13 years at the ReStore are one big blur of forward momentum and growth. But in a nutshell…

The overall memory that I take away is the Local aspect, the sense of belonging to and serving the community of Asheville and greater WNC. From helping someone rehab a house on a shoestring budget to helping an entrepreneur outfit a local restaurant, and then watch it be successful. I’ve sat on church pews we picked up at a local church that found a new life as seating at secular music venues, and many customers have showed me pictures of their home projects that they completed with purchases from the ReStore.  

Also invaluable have been the different perspectives brought by diverse staff, volunteers and homeowners.  We’ve all lived through unprecedented growth in our community, worked through a complete remodel of the store itself, seen the need for affordable housing skyrocket in our area, and grieved over the unexpected passing of volunteers and staff. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride, and 30 years is a huge accomplishment. We all should remember Lew Kraus’s original determination and vision when he started driving around on “trash day” in Asheville and picking up items from the side of the road that he knew could be re-used and sold for Habitat’s benefit!”         ~Scott Bianchi, ReStore Assistant Manager

Jeff

Jeff Bridgman, ReStore Manager

Jeff Bridgman has been with the Asheville ReStore since 2014, serving first as Donations Manager before moving into the role of Store Manager last year. One of his team members commented recently “I have never seen someone so thorough in their follow through as Jeff”, and how accurate that is. Nothing slips through the cracks with Jeff overseeing it, and in an operation like the ReStore that is no small feat…especially when half of every day is now spent standing in the sun, reminding customers to follow all safe shopping directions. He could easily have delegated this not very enjoyable task, but he didn’t. Jeff is the epitome of dedication and hard work.

“My memories of the ReStore may be a bit different as I have had the experience of viewing the store as a corporate donor and then as a team member. My first contact with the ReStore came when I was introduced to Paul Reeves while working at Grove Park Inn. Part of my job then was to coordinate donations and pick-ups with Habitat as GPI started a new chapter by giving away furniture and other items instead of selling it to staff or throwing it away. As GPI’s relationship with the ReStore expanded, I got to know several of the drivers and volunteers; some of whom are still here today. I also developed a regular phone conversation and relationship with Piper Parker, the ReStore Scheduling Coordinator.

Over time, I learned more about Habitat from staff, from working on the GPI-sponsored Habitat house, and volunteering a few times with Home Repair. (Chipping lead paint off of a house is an experience I won’t forget!)  I remember visiting the ReStore when the lower showroom was still an area where cars pulled into. I thought that was crazy!

When I moved to south Georgia for work, I thought that would be the end of my association with the ReStore. I was wrong.

I remember the excitement I felt when I had the opportunity to return — as the Donations Manager, and that is where my real education about the ReStore began. The past six plus years have seen a lot of changes for me personally and for the affiliate. The one thing that has remained the same through it all is the unwavering belief and determination that everyone here shares for the mission, vision, and values of AAHH. We may all not agree on how to accomplish the goals sometimes, but everyone here is committed to making the community and the world a better place and that to me separates the ReStore from any place else I have ever worked.”      ~Jeff Bridgman, ReStore Manager

Some say the true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis. But, perhaps the greater reflection of leadership quality is how well the entire team functions in a crisis. The past several months have arguably been some of the most difficult for the ReStore team- not for lack of sales, but rather for lack of man power as volunteers were asked to stay home due to the pandemic. Witnessing the whole ReStore team functioning with strength, determination, and positivity without 140+ volunteers each week is a true testament to the quality of leadership at the helm.  Just as these leaders have looked back and reflected on their years at the ReStore, it is certain that there will be a day in the future when others will bring reflection and deep gratitude for the leadership Jeff and Scott have provided during this most challenging time.

#teamRestore.

After All These Years

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Susan Diehn Old Store Original

Volunteer Susan Diehn in the Biltmore Ave. store

By Klesa Ausherman

Susan Diehn walked into her first volunteer shift with the Asheville Habitat Home Store on a Monday in 1994. She had inquired about the volunteer opportunity after a friend who knew of Susan’s love for vintage items recommended it to her. Howard Trimble, the Home Store Manager at the time, quickly invited Susan to join the volunteer team. It wasn’t long after she started that the Tuesday Volunteer Manager position became open, and Susan stepped up to the job. “I was the first woman manager,” Susan remembers, “all the rest were retired men.” Of course, the dynamic has since changed, and more and more women have joined Susan in volunteering throughout the ReStore.

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Susan, second from R, alongside fellow volunteers in the Meadow Rd. store

Twenty six years later, Susan can still be found at the upper register on Tuesdays, chatting with regular customers and welcoming new customers to the store. “My tenure with Habitat has been twenty six years of amazing experiences. Knowing our repeat customers and getting to know customers who are new to our store is always fun for me. I always tell them it is the best place in town to shop!” And customers equally enjoy chatting with Susan and learning from her depth of knowledge on all things ReStore.

As much as Susan enjoys interacting with customers, it’s someone else who keeps her commitment to the ReStore strong. “The reason I keep coming every week is knowing that maybe I am helping a family have a positive new beginning. I love working with the homeowner families, getting to know them and seeing the excitement and pride they have about building and owning a home for their family. That experience has been such a joy to me over the years. Times have changed, for sure, but the mission is still the same. Even in these times of the pandemic, it has truly been a pleasure for me to be  a part of this fabulous organization.”

And of course Susan isn’t alone in this sentiment, and she recognizes the like minds around her. “The whole atmosphere of the ReStore is positive and the staff and volunteers are here because they want to be a part of something positive for our community. Plus, the staff are very supportive of the volunteers.” Susan fondly recalls the leaders she has served with over the years, many of whom have since retired. The man behind it all, Lew Kraus, left quite an impression on Susan. “I have always admired Lew Kraus for having the vision to start this wonderful piece of Habitat for Humanity in our area. He was able to bring the vision of a thrift store to benefit the community and build affordable homes for families living in substandard housing, to self-sufficient reality. Through his efforts the tiny store downtown evolved into the large warehouse we are working from now.”

Jay Sloan, ReStore Manager from 1998 to 2014 she says, “He was like my brother. He treated everyone fairly. He brought a new energy to the operation and really made the store grow. He was instrumental in getting the big warehouse up and going. It was a sad time for the staff and volunteers when he made the decision to retire. He surely is missed.”

It would be impossible to reflect back on 26 years of service with the Habitat ReStore and not recall some of the amazing donations that have come in. Susan remembers, “The wonderful and unusual things that have come through our store from our fabulous donors, always surprise me. We’ve had cut gemstones, a baby elephant made of leather, and the horse and buggy. All were quite a spectacle, and sold quickly.” Though Susan didn’t take the horse and buggy home, she does recall the many items that have come home with her over the years. “I have purchased so many wonderful things, I can’t even think of the best. I’ve purchased beds, desks, many chairs, tables, couches, fabrics, dishware, artwork, gemstones, and rugs.”  She’s noticed, “Asheville locals and businesses have become very interested and generous with their donations. Our customers can’t wait to find a treasure for their homes.”

In a time when over 20% of millennials have changed jobs in the past year, Susan Diehn’s  twenty six years of volunteer service with Habitat for Humanity stands out as rare. If anything, after all these years, her engagement is only increasing. Susan even capped her quarter century of service with a mission trip to Ethiopia with Asheville Habitat earlier this year. And with her easy to approach attitude, constant smile, and consistent humility, she certainly sets a high bar.  Asheville Habitat ReStore staff continued to be inspired by her commitment to the organization, and look forward to serving alongside her into the future.  Three cheers to Susan Diehn! Hip, hip, hooray!

A ReStore Reflection

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I was hooked on the Home Store after my first shift and committed to several Saturdays each month. Two years later, a new staff position had been created and it was suggested that I apply. I wasn’t looking to make a move, I enjoyed teaching and loved the high school environment, but the opportunity to be a part of this mission was far too strong of a pull. My time in the Home Store, now the ReStore, yielded far more than I ever expected.

A Story Worth Telling

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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. Please take a moment to read the Asheville Habitat ReStore story.

Evolution of a Secondhand Store

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Thirty years ago, Asheville Habitat opened a used furniture store on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Today, the affiliate operates two successful stores, is one of the highest performing ReStores in the country, and is annually recognized as #1 Used Furniture Store in WNC.

Reckoning with Race and Housing

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As an organization that condemns structural racism in our housing system, Asheville Habitat will not transfer this deed to another owner with this abhorrent language. We took the time to learn from the Register of Deeds and work with Pisgah Legal Services to draft new deed language that nullifies the racist restrictions. This is a small step in the right direction and we hope it inspires other property owners to do the same.

A Safe Return

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At the Asheville ReStores, the safety and health of our customers and team is number one priority. Read about the ways we are working to safely get everyone back to their treasure hunt and back to the mission of building affordable housing in Buncombe County!

When Quarantine Comes, Things Go

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When asked if they had fun reminiscing as they went through all their things, Charlie laughed and suggested I halt my inquiry unless I wanted Tricia back in the garage removing things from the donation pile! She confirmed they had lots of fun traveling down memory lane, and that some items were easier to let go than others.

Grand Opening Set for New ReStore

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Following a 9:30am ribbon cutting, we will officially open the doors to shoppers at 10am for the Weaverville ReStore Grand Opening celebration on Saturday, August 24th.  The community is invited to celebrate, shop, and enjoy give-aways, refreshments, and live radio (98.1).

Located in the Weaverville Crossings shopping plaza (61 Weaver Blvd.) in the space previously occupied by ACE Hardware, our new ReStore will offer much of the same merchandise as the flagship Asheville store: gently used furniture, housewares, appliances, building supplies, art and more. There will be a donation drop-off lane and plenty of parking. Hours will be 10am-6pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We are thrilled to join the Weaverville community and look forward to providing the northern part of the county with another source of affordable home goods, as well as a place for people to donate building materials, appliances, furniture and more,” added Susan Haynes, Weaverville ReStore Manager. Haynes, previously Assistant Manager of the Asheville ReStore, is joined by Eric Tamila, Weaverville ReStore Assistant Manager. Tamila is a long-time supervisor from the Asheville Habitat ReStore. Two ReStore associates will round out the small team.

One of the first Habitat ReStores in the country, the Asheville Habitat ReStore opened in 1990 on Biltmore Avenue where it remained for thirteen years. After a major renovation of the donated Pearlman Carpet warehouse, the ReStore settled into its existing site at 31 Meadow Road near Biltmore Village in 2003. Today, the Asheville Habitat ReStore is a leader among 900+ Habitat ReStores nationwide, garners annual recognition as best Used Furniture Store (non-profit) in the Mountain Xpress’ Best of WNC, and has become a destination for shoppers in Buncombe County and beyond.

Please join us in Weaverville on Saturday, August 24th to celebrate the much-anticipated opening of our second ReStore!

 

ReStore Shopping 101

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By Marty Steinberg

“Shopping at the ReStore isn’t like shopping at other stores,” ReStore General Manager Scott Stetson reminds his staff members. “First time shoppers might not know how the green tags work or they might inadvertently walk into the work area. It’s our job to help them navigate the concept of the ReStore.”

It’s true: a first time shopper at the ReStore is generally amazed and impressed, but sometimes a bit confused. Will they have what I’m looking for? Where should I look? What do I do when I find it?

If you’ve come for hardware, large appliances or building supplies, downstairs is the place to be. The lower showroom also features rugs, office furniture and sporting goods, as well as a selection of new tile, vinyl, and laminate flooring and discounted energy efficient light bulbs.

Small items can easily be placed in a shopping cart but large items generally will have a green tag affixed to the item with a date, description and price of the item. The tags are perforated in the middle and if you want to purchase a large item, just separate the bottom part of the tag and bring it to the register. After you’ve purchased an item we can hold it for up to five days so you can make arrangements to pick it up.

If you’re looking for furniture or housewares you may want to walk straight through the lower level to get to the upper showroom. As you proceed to the upper showroom, you’ll see our “mission wall” along the right wall of the lower level and you’ll come to our “donor atrium” once you’ve reached the upper level. Restrooms are located on the left, just before the doors to the upper showroom.

Reconditioned mattresses, new metal bedframes and more LED light bulbs are available upstairs, along with Asheville’s #1 used furniture store (according to Mountain Xpress, Best of WNC) and a large selection of kitchen supplies, linens, lamps, artwork, electronics and jewelry.

On your right, just past the art wall, is the Silent Auction, where shoppers may place bids on some of the most interesting items donated recently. The silent auction recently passed a huge milestone: as of March 20, 2019 one million dollars has been raised since it’s 2005 inception!

If you keep walking back and look left you’ll find our bookstore: it’s a store within a store! Offering much more than just books, it has movies, compact discs, vintage vinyl and Warren Haynes Presents: The Christmas Jam memorabilia. You can even buy a cup of fair trade Guatemalan coffee or tea to enjoy while you browse or sit and page through a book. Proceeds from the sale of this coffee and tea, as well as Guatemalan handicrafts (also in the bookstore area), go to Habitat for Humanity Guatemala to provide coffee farmers with Healthy Home Kits (water filters, smokeless stoves and sanitary latrines).

A few additional tips will help you to shop like a ReStore regular – the kind of shoppers who bring a sharp eye and a pick-up truck when they come to look for bargains!

ReStore regulars know that they should jump on a bargain when they see it. Most people learn the hard way: you walk by an item thinking that you’ll get it on the way out, then you see it going by in someone else’s cart. Bringing a friend to watch an item for you while you ask a staff member or volunteer for help is a great strategy.

New products arrive every day that we’re open, so feel free to check back regularly. We are glad to help you find what you’re looking for on our sales floor: the one thing we can’t do is look through the work area where items have yet to be tested, researched, cleaned and priced.

We’re also glad to clarify a price if there’s any question, but we won’t lower a price on request. If an item sits on the sales floor too long – generally about two weeks from the date it was priced – we may decide to lower the price on our own, so feel free to check back on another day if an item you see is priced above your budget.

Shopping at the ReStore is a great way to stretch your budget, keep usable items out of the landfill and support the mission of Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. In 2018, the ReStore diverted 1,800 tons of usable items from the landfill, provided 25 living wage jobs and raised funds to build affordable homes in partnership with hardworking families. The ReStore is able to have such an impact thanks to our donors, volunteers, staff members and of course, our satisfied customers.

To learn about the ReStore here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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