Its Goleta headquarters and thrift shop may be difficult to find, but that doesn’t dismay a nonprofit group dedicated to recycling surplus or salvaged building materials—all donated—to help fund low-income housing. The shop sells some out-of-the-ordinary items: Think ironwork that once adorned the Granada Theatre, or a new gas fireplace complete with fake logs.
Of wider interest is the store’s inventory of doors, windows, toilets, electrical fixtures, lamps, sinks, plumbing materials, tiles, steel cables, brackets, hinges, and 101 other household items. These may be small things, such as the six-inch-square wooden cover I found that perfectly fit my need; or as large as an ornate, stained-glass window salvaged from a mansion. Best of all, the low prices and high quality give customers more bang for the buck.
Sponsored by Habitat for Humanity’s Southern Santa Barbara County affiliate in Goleta, the ReStore, as the shop is called, has been open at 6725 Hollister since August 2008. It operates out of a one-story, tan-colored, former storage unit behind the glass Cabrillo Business Park building, beside the Kmart shopping center. The volunteer-run shop is connected to Hollister by a driveway, next to which sits a small sign with its name.
Should a potential customer accidentally stumble on the ReStore, he or she may find it closed. Currently, business hours are Wednesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. While drop-in visitors are welcome, comprehensive photo sampling of the store’s wares can be seen at its Web site along with store hours and contact information.
Despite such minor inconveniences as limited hours and a location that would stump Capt. Jack Sparrow, ReStore is a big improvement over what the group began with in 2000, said Angelique Davis, development director for the Habitat’s Goleta affiliate. Now there is space to store and sort donations in the same place they will be displayed for sale.
Before this, the South County group (another exists in Santa Maria) had to rely on scattered storage sites, as well as the kindness of contractors, to hold things until they could be sold. “We didn’t have a warehouse; we had occasional parking lot sales for a number of years,” she recalled.
Not all salvaged or donated things meet Habitat’s sales standards. “We want only ‘gently used’ items,” explained Lydia Ehmann as she guided me around the store’s warren of home-improvement racks and stacks. She coordinates the ReStore’s more than 400 volunteers, who contributed an estimated 5,000 hours during the first 18 months of operation.
Because of her frequent contact with customers, Ehmann is confident the store helped many victims recover from the area’s recent wildfires. She also noted that the number of people seeking kitchen remodeling materials has dropped in the past six months. “I think that is a sign of economic recovery,” she said.
In line with the parent Habitat for Humanity’s environmental goals, over an 18-month period the Goleta affiliate has diverted approximately 90 tons of construction and demolition “waste” from the county landfill, according to Ehmann and Davis. While it is satisfying to recycle useful items and materials, and it can be fun for customers to hunt for hidden ReStore gems, Habitat’s operation is based on helping low-income people build or improve their shelters.
In 2007, the Goleta affiliate completed its first major local building project—a three-condominium complex on Via Lucero, off upper State Street. The three families who now live there worked alongside a thousand volunteers to build their new homes. Another area project underway is fundraising for four homes on the Santa Barbara Westside.
“We cater to low-income families,” explained Davis, “but our long-term goal with the ReStore is to sell enough donated materials to actually fund homes.” Right now, the store is a small part of the affiliate’s total revenue stream of grants and gifts from foundations, civic and religious groups, and individual donors. Its profits do not yet cover the affiliate’s administrative overhead, she said. That will hopefully change, judging from the results of other, established Habitat ReStores in the nation.