In Tight Times, Thrifty Loudoun Store, Shoppers Thrive

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shops on New York's Madison Avenue may be closing, but tough economic times can translate into opportunity for some businesses, such as ReStore, which opened yesterday in Purcellville.

The store, part of a national chain, is run by Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing using volunteer labor and donated materials. ReStore sells donated building supplies, furniture and household appliances at 50 to 90 percent off the retail prices.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, you're like a thrift store,' but you walk into a thrift store, and everything's beat to hell," said Tim Gammon, the store's director and its only full-time employee (the other workers are volunteers).

At ReStore, much of the merchandise has never been used or has been used so little that it appears new. A $1,200 refrigerator with a bottom freezer might sell for $500. A $1,000 slab of granite could sell for $150. A variety of items, such as flooring materials, toilets, lighting and nails, might show up on any given day.

Some of the materials are donated by contractors with extra materials after a project or people who replace items in their houses and would rather donate than discard the old ones.

Some items come from businesses such as Home Depot or Target, which donate merchandise that doesn't sell. Donations are tax-deductible, and the proceeds from sales go to building affordable housing, including five houses scheduled for western Loudoun.

Unlike many businesses, ReStore does well when times are tough. Sales are up by as much as 50 percent in other Northern Virginia ReStores, such as those in Manassas and Alexandria. Although donations from corporate donors are down, more items than usual are coming in from businesses that are closing.

Customer traffic is also up.

"People who want to save a little money fixing up their house, instead of having a contractor do it, they can find great bargains," said Cynthia Jennings, a Habitat for Humanity board member.

Besides being tax-deductible, she said, donating appeals to environmentally conscious people who don't want their items to end up in a landfill.

People who in better times might have moved into bigger houses are fixing up the ones they're in, and they want to do it cheaply, Gammon said.

"It makes more sense to do more home renovations that are more budget-conscious," he said, adding that the quality of the store's items is one of its draws.

Last week, before the Purcellville store officially opened, customers were invited to visit the 23,000-square-foot space and poke around. By the end of the week, hold tags had been placed on many items, although purchases could not be made until yesterday.

"Everyone who's come in here has put something on hold," Gammon said. "Anything that's of high quality got snatched up."

On Thursday, that included a Yamaha stereo receiver, some solid-core wood doors and coffee tables from a Marriott hotel that was doing some remodeling.

"It's a lot of good stuff," said Cindy Barnes, an Ashburn resident who went in looking for bedroom furniture for her daughter, who will be a junior at James Madison University in the fall.

New furniture sets that she'd been looking at cost about $700, she said. At ReStore, she put a hold on a full-size headboard and bed frame. "I got them for $10, combined."

Next time, Barnes said, she'll go back and look for some bargains for herself.

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