Andrew Smith is the manager of the ReStore in Portland, where Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland’s donated goods go to be resold, also known as that place where your friend So-and-so scored that amazing stove that one time because someone with lots of money was upgrading their kitchen again. We called Smith up to talk the three R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle), shopping tips and why he would consider the place a treasure trove even if he didn’t work there.

STORE STATS: There are over 800 ReStores in the United States, Smith said, most operating on a county-by-county basis. The earliest ones opened in the 1990s (1991 in Canada, 1992 in Austin, Texas). Smith helped open the original Portland ReStore at an first location off Reed Street in 2006. The relocation in 2013 was all about space: “We were really bumping up against the confines.” Now they’ve got 14,000 square feet to fill up with donated goods, many of them new or gently used items coming from contractors.

WHO GOES THERE? It’s more like, who doesn’t go there? “You see Mercedes Benz out here and you see junky old trucks. People are donating from all walks (of life) and shopping from all walks.” Furniture sales in the Portland store are particularly strong. “It is now our best-selling item, categorically.” Most of what they sell is hardwood: coffee tables, dining room sets and so forth. “We try to wow people.”

PROCEEDS GO TO: Habitat for Humanity has been in the home-building business since the 1970s, with an emphasis on decent and affordable homes, built by volunteers. It’s all about paying it forward, with house payments and fundraising helping to offset the costs of the next construction project. The money ReStore makes on sales goes into the building fund, which is particularly needed as housing prices soar in Greater Portland. “We are striving to provide more and more because the need is so great.” What have they got going right now? A 13-unit subdivision on Broadturn Road in Scarborough. It’s not quite finished, but there are already home owners in some of the properties. Volunteers are always welcome. “A lot of folks show up who have never swung a hammer before.”

TIME INSTEAD OF MONEY: Every property takes about 600 hours of volunteer time to construct, Smith said. Do things from ReStore end up in the properties? Only rarely in the building process, Smith said, because donated items to ReStores tend to be one-offs, specifically intended for particular dimensions, such as a single window and frame that wouldn’t work within the architectural plans of a Habitat-designed building.

PRICEY PRIZE: What’s the most expensive thing at his ReStore right now? “A French door. This great one just came in.” It’s a Marvin brand set of glass doors (with frame) that would retail new for about $8,000, he said. “We are selling it for $3,500,” Smith said. That’s a deal. “Yeah, like your jaw drops.” But that kind of item needs someone who can design something around it. That’s the nature of a lot of what’s at the ReStore, Smith said, items looking for a homeowner lucky enough to need something in those exact dimensions or a willingness to be flexible. He remembers a couple from New Gloucester who were building a small, 1,100 square foot house and came to the ReStore for just about every finish material: hardwood floors, prehung doors and so on, spending only $100 a square foot for the new build. “I even took down a garage that had these 30-foot trusses and he used those for his horse barn.” Of the “Three R’s,” one stands out. “Reuse is the big one.”


TREASURE TROVE: Does he ever buy anything for himself? “I found a table missing drawers and a top and I bought that for $15.” So basically, just the legs? Good legs though. “It was just amazing turn-of-the-century mahogany veneer. Stylish and great bones.” He’s enough of a woodworker himself that he could build out the rest.

GETTING HERE FROM THERE: Where did he learn woodworking? After graduating from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, Smith landed in Burlington, Vermont, where he went to work for a nonprofit salvage company very much built on the same model as ReStore. Smith and his coworkers would travel around Vermont, dismantling barns and houses, building new pieces with old wood, like kitchen islands, or selling off de-nailed, cleaned-up boards to builders. He does similar work with ReStore now, walking through places scheduled for demolition and determining if it’s worth bringing in a Habitat crew to salvage materials.

I HEART PINE: Like that time he and his crew took several thousand square feet of premium heart pine flooring out of a house in Prout’s Neck, which ended up in a mid-century home up the coast. What’s in it for the homeowner who is giving up that original pine? “They will benefit in two ways. Every pound that we take out of a house in salvage is less that they are paying in tipping fees.” Then they get a tax write-off up to $5,000 for the donated materials. The benefits get passed on: “Then people who are on a shoestring budget, they are winning as well.”

SHOPPING TIPS: Does one need to visit the ReStore every day if you’re looking for something exceptional? “The people who have the most success here come every week.” That said, if you’re after, say, a beautiful chunk of stained glass, they’re rare enough that finding one would be more of a luck-of-the-draw kind of situation. The Portland ReStore has two trucks picking up donated items four days a week in Cumberland County, so “I don’t think there is one day better than the other.” Especially not if you’re looking for kitchen cabinets at a bargain rate; contractors are always doing drop-offs. “We have guys that show up with cabinetry every day, without notice.”

BREAD AND BUTTER: Those contractors “are really the bread and butter” of ReStore. They tend to hate to see good materials go to waste, and they like to share cast-offs from say, the multi-million dollar remodel underway. “That Robin Hood effect,” Smith calls it. Keep an eye on the store’s social media for news of the latest arrivals. “Facebook is a great way to go.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS: Looking for old tools? Keep an ear out in December, just before the holidays when Smith and crew set out tables filled with antique tools they’ve been hording for the sale, things like hand planes and old crosscut saws and $5 chisels. Exactly the beauties the woodworker in your life needs.

FUN AT WORK: Smith really likes the matchmaking aspect of his job. “I love listening to people’s stories. It is a joy to hear that people are using the stuff they’re repurposed.”

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