Garage sale transforms into community staple
By Ashlee Sang and Zach Dietmeier
Nearly two decades ago, a small group of dedicated Habitat for Humanity volunteers began collecting items in a cramped warehouse on Adelaide Street in Normal. Their goal was to collect and sell donated items several mornings a month – weather permitting. No one imagined that tiny operation, which functioned as an ordinary garage sale, would turn into the successful resale center the ReStore has become.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore has been a fixture of the West Bloomington Community since 2009. People from across Bloomington-Normal visit the ReStore to hunt for bargains or to drop off household items. 100-plus customers and countless additional browsing visitors make their way to the facility every day.
“We have a combination of dedicated staff members and volunteers, generous donors, and thrifty consumers who really contribute to our success,” ReStore General Manager Tyler Wiggs said. “People like to know their donations and purchases will have a positive impact in the community.”
The money the ReStore generates from annual sales equates to 3.5 of the six Habitat homes built annually in McLean County. The ReStore collects over four hundred donations each month, giving the items a second life in new homes and businesses while preventing most items from simply getting tossed to the curb. In 2016 alone, the ReStore diverted an estimated 763,000 pounds away from landfills.
“People have a desire to see their donations put to good use rather than simply getting thrown away,” Wiggs said.
The ReStore employs multiple staff members and serves as a volunteer center for TANF workers, court-ordered service, retirees, and benevolent neighbors.
Construction on a major addition to the ReStore facility will increase the current size from 8,500 square feet to 20,000.
“Ultimately, the goal is to create a bigger, better ReStore, improving the experience for donors, shoppers, volunteers, and other community partners,” Wiggs said.
The expansion—deemed the ReStore ReNewal—has been in the works since 2015. Demolishing a decrepit existing building in December 2016 marked the beginning of construction, followed by an official groundbreaking ceremony with project stakeholders in March 2017.
“The expanded ReStore will be able to offer more items to the community at discounted prices and help more donors get rid of items in a productive way,” Wiggs said. “A project of this scale will also show other business owners the value of investing in the West Bloomington neighborhood and sets the tone for further community development.”
The ReNewal is being built on the current store site. By committing to remain in the current location while expanding operations, the hope is to encourage others to invest in the vibrant West Bloomington neighborhood. Within five years, the hope is that ReStore earnings will cover 100 percent of Habitat's administrative costs and increase the number of homes built. Previously, proceeds have accounted for about 92 percent of program administration.
A highlight of the expansion will be the streamlined donation process accomplished by creating a dedicated donation drive-through lane. With this updated drop-off system, donors will no longer have to navigate a congested parking lot and can simply drive off after donating their items. The new donation dock has been built and paved, and a canopy has been added to protect donors and volunteers from rain and other inclement weather.
“The inspiration for the new store came from recognizing the shortfalls of our current space and the promise of tapping into the full potential of our model to better serve the community,” Wiggs said. “We’re improving the conditions while also increasing our ability to complete our mission of ensuring that everyone has a decent place to live.”
After tearing down the damaged building that currently faces the Constitution Trail, the ReStore will look more inviting from the street. In the end, customers will benefit from increased parking capacity, an improved retail atmosphere, and a wider selection of new and gently-used treasures.
The ReStore joins forces with Habitat for Humanity of McLean County five days a week in an effort to eliminate substandard housing in the BN community and around the world. A walk through the current ReStore showroom takes you past a wall filled with the families who have worked with Habitat since the Washington ReStore location opened in 2009. The rows of happy homeowners will continue to grow as the ReStore and its success flourish with—and because of—the community.