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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Store manager Nathan Ainslie holds a stainless steel sink that was donated to the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore by a hospital.

Rehab? Remodel? ReStore!

Habitat’s bargain store lures contractors and artists

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
James Cash built a fence in his yard entirely out of lumber from ReStore. He got enough lumber for his fence and a neighbor’s fence for $200.

Former Fort Wayne remodeling contractor Nathan Ainslie has an eye for a home rehab bargain, and when he’s at work, he sees them all around him.

There are the couple dozen or so 18-gauge stainless steel sinks left over from a hospital project selling for $85 – listed in a company catalog at a retail price of $475. And decorator-friendly light-blue ceramic tiles, still in their boxes, perfect for a kitchen backsplash for just $1 a square foot.

Not to mention a marble-topped 8-foot wooden bathroom vanity with double sinks and hardware – albeit missing a small front panel – marked down to $175.

Such are the bargains to be had at the Fort Wayne chapter of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, where products for home remodeling and repair aren’t just Earth-friendly but can also have a pocketbook payoff.

“Basically, we’re like a small Lowe’s or Do it Best or Menards,” says Ainslie, store manager. “We have the same kinds of things, but not in the quantity that you’d see at one of those places.”

Indeed, what surprises many first-time store visitors is that many items in the ReStore are new, not recycled, donated by companies and contractors from surplus or discontinued items, Ainslie says, adding that stores and other donors get a tax credit for their donations while keeping perfectly good items out of a landfill.

Used items – including doors, windows, siding, roofing, paneling, flooring, cabinetry and plumbing and lighting fixtures – often come from local remodeling contractors, who are saved the cost of disposal and can market themselves as recyclers, says Pam Lochner, director of ReStore operations.

Lochner says last year, the local store, in a 15,400-square-foot facility at 3837 N. Wells St. since 2009, has kept 406 tons of material out of landfills while serving about 20,000 customers.

Other area Habitat chapter-sponsored ReStore locations are at 325 Hauenstein Road in Huntington and 2526 Peddler’s Village Road in Goshen.

Many customers come on the hunt for a specialty item.

Gary Wohlwend of Fort Wayne recently hit the jackpot on a crank for a Pella window after a handle disappeared from a rental property.

“Absolutely, this is hard to find,” he says. “And this is certainly going to be less expensive.”

But some folks do whole-house projects from store stock.

James Cash of Fort Wayne says he has s used ReStore items to redo much of his home, a two-bedroom south-side bungalow. It’s taken him eight years, and he’s still not done, but he’s saved a lot of money, he says.

“I put all new windows in, and screens. I put on new doors, and … I put vinyl siding on,” the professional driver says. “I put a full privacy fence all around it. I bought all the fence for like two hundred bucks, and had enough to go all around the house and do part of the neighbor’s.

“I go to the Habitat place first, and then what I can’t get, I go to the hardware store and pay full price if I have to.”

Cash says his wife Shirley also comes up with Habitat finds. From a piece of countertop, she devised not only kitchen counters but also shelving. And she had him cut up some into bricklike shapes she used for wall covering.

“They look like brick,” Cash says. “Actually, my wife is pretty smart with that stuff. … She knows how to use material. I’m pretty much the labor. She’s the designer. She’ll pick it out, and I’ll do it.”

Woodworking hobbyist Stephen Reisinger of Fort Wayne earlier this month was wheeling a cart loaded with a sheet of plywood and some wood strips toward the cash register for his somewhat smaller wife-directed project.

“This is going to be a case for my wife’s knitting machine, so she can travel with it. It’s going to be an anniversary gift,” he says.

“A lot of really out-of-the-box thinkers come here,” Lochner says. “They can find things that they can make into something else. A lot of customers come in weekly just to see what we have, and it (store stock) changes sometimes every day.”

Lochner says among the most popular items, other than light bulbs and paint, are toilets and refrigerators. The ReStore will take all sorts of large appliances, including dishwashers, washers and dryers and garbage disposals for resale.

But refrigerators – ReStore takes only those made after 1993 – tend to go most quickly.

“Sometimes they’ll go even as we’re setting it up on the floor,” she says, adding the organization will provide transportation if a homeowner or contractor wishes to donate large or bulky items.

Ainslie, 28, says he’s seen all kinds of things adapted from ReStore materials.

One regular customer, he says, buys brass-and-glass chandeliers from the 1980s – something the ReStore tends to have in abundance – and paints and decorates them and resells them online.

Doors, he adds, have ended up as coffee table, desk or workbench tops, and newel posts and balusters as table legs. Practically free wallpaper has become scrapbooking material.

Ainslie points out a waist-high cabinet made of light-colored finished wood without a top. He agrees it practically begs to become a stand for a big-screen TV.

“That’s a nice media center right there,” he says. “For carpenters and handy people, this place is a gold mine.”