hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture December 2017-January 2018


Buy stuff, build houses

New store raises funds for area Habitat for Humanity chapter


Charlie Burd, center, the manager of the new Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Moreau, N.Y., talks at the store with customers Jamie Moors, Ryan Ashe and Ridge Ashe, 2, all of Hebron. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


Walk through the doors of the new ReStore and you’re likely to find everything from pastel-colored ceramic mixing bowls, vintage lamps and pullout couches to plumbing fixtures, paint, windows and stoves.

This oasis of gently used home furnishings and building materials, which opened in October, is run by enthusiastic volunteers and a handful of employees rallying for a charitable cause: It helps to raise funds for the Habitat for Humanity chapter that serves northern Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties.

The store at 1373 Route 9, just off Exit 17 of the Northway, brings to fruition a years-long dream for members of the tri-county Habitat chapter, which formed in 1991. Through the store, the group aims to raise more funds so it can build more houses for people.

“Some habitat chapters are only one county, but ours is massive, and the needs of each county are different,” said Tammy DiCara, the chapter’s board president.

Habitat for Humanity is a global organization with independently operated chapters; each regional office organizes its own donations of labor, materials and cash to build homes at below market cost.

“One of the biggest misconceptions we battle is that we are public assistance,” DiCara said. “Our national tagline is, ‘We’re a hand-up, not a hand-out.’ People think we give houses away, but we don’t.”

What Habitat for Humanity will do, via donated labor and materials, is build a home for significantly below market cost, with the home’s recipients contributing $2,500 toward closing costs and then paying a monthly mortgage.

“We assist families and individuals who are working but challenged with getting a conventional loan,” DiCara said. “Once you get behind, you don’t catch up. What we do is need-based: We build for families, single people, and even seniors with low to moderate incomes. Typically they’re renting and cannot qualify for a mortgage.”

Being a volunteer-based organization that relies on donations and fund-raising events has meant building two houses a year from the $100,000 the local chapter typically has raised annually.

“Our limit for building is funding, and that’s where the ReStore comes in,” DiCara said. “Our goal is to do more than two houses per year.”

The chapter has a small administrative staff but relies largely on unpaid help for everything from answering phones to taping drywall for a new home.


From hardware to artwork
The strategy of setting up a ReStore – a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center – is sanctioned by the global Habitat for Humanity organization and has been carried out by dozens of other Habitat chapters around the nation. In this region, ReStores already operate in Hudson, Albany and Pittsfield, Mass.

DiCara said creating a ReStore in the Glens Falls area was long on the local board’s agenda, but the group had to find the proper location as well as raise funds.

“We followed guidelines from Habitat for Humanity International in planning our ReStore,” she said. “One criteria is that a chapter must build more than one house per year. We had to demonstrate we could scale up on our own and double our fund raising and our volunteers.”
Earlier this year, the chapter found its perfect location: a building that previously housed a car dealership nearly halfway between Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs.

Charles Burd, who serves as manager of the new store, said the range of merchandise offered is quite broad.

“You can find anything here needed to build, outfit or decorate a home,” Burd said. “What we sell ranges from hardware to what I like to call sassy stuff.”

Although many people are drawn through the doors in search of discounts, Burd stressed that the store’s top priority is fund raising.

“While ReStores are considered thrift, the idea is to profit Habitat for Humanity, so we’re not known for giveaway prices,” he said. “However, there is something here for every price point. Our general rule of thumb is 50 to 70 percent below retail prices.”

The store, he said, has something for everyone, from contractors to art lovers.
“We have everything from framed art that spans the gamut from high-end to $5 pieces,” Burd said. “We have mid-century tourist art from Europe, posters, and we just received a donation of three original Cate Mandigo paintings. On the other end of the spectrum, we also have a lumber yard given to us by a major donor.”


Shifting gears
Burd, who lives in Hebron, has spent a lot of the past decade helping to run the business enterprises of his partner, the celebrity chef Suvir Saran. But last winter, he said he found himself missing his involvement with charities.

“At first I had the idea of going to Phuket and helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house,” he said, laughing, referring to the province in Thailand that is home to many beach resorts. “But then I thought, let’s do something closer to home.”

Burd had already visited several ReStores around the United States and had a solid idea of their focus and mission.

“When I interviewed for the manager’s position, I was so impressed by the energy of the executive director, Adam Feldman, and all the volunteers, that I wanted to be a part of it,” Burd said. “So I sat down with him and gave him my impressions on how to serve the community and the standards by which I’ve run thrift in the past.”

Burd brings more than 20 years of retail experience to the ReStore manager position, including a tenure as assistant director of stores for Housing Works, a nonprofit benefiting homeless and formerly homeless and at-risk men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS in New York City. From 2010-12, he worked as chief operating officer at Korin, a purveyor of Japanese chef knives and specialty kitchen items.

“I’ve worked in retail from every platform, but home retail is my strongest background,” Burd said. “And my experience with thrift made me a unique candidate for the ReStore.”

Burd said it has proved to be a perfect fit, not just because of his retail experience but also because he now serves as an unofficial representative of Washington County, which has some issues with housing.

“I’m really excited by that, because the county I live in has the sixth highest foreclosure rate in New York state,” Burd said.

The ReStore’s main showroom is filled with donations of used furniture. Sales of the furniture and other items benefit the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to build homes for families who aren’t eligible for traditional home mortgages.


Burd, the Habitat chapter board and a group of volunteers worked nonstop since July to get the 7,000-square-foot space ready for its Oct. 2 grand opening.

“Since we were doing construction on a retail space using chiefly volunteer labor, it was a more nuanced beast to pull together,” Burd said. “There were things like a total repaint, installation of ramps, resurfacing of floors, and adding shelving, all of which added to the budget.”


Building a volunteer staff
The ReStore is open Thursday through Saturday. Burd and the board would like to expand its hours, but they need more volunteers.

“The real challenge was finding volunteer staffing for the store,” Burd said. “I have three paid employees on my team, and about 30 volunteers. We would love to get more volunteers to help run the store, because I have to unfortunately turn potential shoppers away on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when we’re here processing donated goods.”

Michele Schwartz of Queensbury, who had been volunteering in the administrative offices of the local Habitat For Humanity chapter for the past year, recently began volunteering in the ReStore.
“Charlie is fantastic and is one of the reasons I love working here,” Schwartz said. “He’s very inspiring, works his tail off, and sets the bar high for the rest of us. It’s great to be a part of such a positively charged environment.”

Schwartz said she first learned about the organization’s charitable work when her youngest son was involved in building a Habitat for Humanity house in Glens Falls.

“When he left for college, I had empty-nest syndrome and wanted to be a part of a charity I could feel passionate about,” she recalled. “I really like Habitat’s mission of giving hope and stability to those in need. Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head, and this gives people an opportunity to get ahead without getting in over their heads.”

Schwartz admitted she has become so enamored with some of the ReStore’s inventory that she is also an occasional customer.

“My husband and I ended up buying a bedroom set for our college-aged son’s apartment in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “It was perfect for what he needed, and the price was right.”


Making connections
DiCara said customers are often pleasantly surprised at the caliber of many offerings at the ReStore.

“Our stuff goes fast,” she said. “An air hockey table disappeared almost as soon as we got it. It’s been a challenge to update our Web site and Facebook page, because items go so quickly.”
Burd suggested the store appeals to people from a range of economic backgrounds.

“Senator Betty Little has been a great supporter and visited us on opening day,” he recalled.
The local state senator, he said, “was so impressed with our furniture, she called her niece and recommended she come over to get some furnishings for her new place.

“We often get people with second homes on Lake George and Saratoga in the store looking for household items,” Burd added.

That shoppers are discovering the store is great news for the board of directors.
“We’re projecting sales from the ReStore to meet 25 percent of our budget this year,” DiCara said. “Ideally, the ReStore will fund an entire house each year on its own.”

Burd said it’s an important part of the ReStore’s philosophy to partner with other organizations.
“We don’t sell used bedding, but a sister charity in Moreau does, so we’ll send customers their way, and they reciprocate,” he explained. “And when the Department of Social Services calls and says they have a family of six that’s using a dorm-sized refrigerator and needs a larger one, we try and help out.”

DiCara said the ReStore welcomes donations of all sizes. For larger items, pick-up can be arranged.

“Just call the store, and we’ll put them on the retrieval schedule,” she said. “It’s also a good idea to let us know ahead of time for dropping off items. People can unload unwanted belongings, and we recycle them into revenue to help others.”

And if more volunteers sign up, DiCara and the board hopes the store will be able to take in more revenue – and support construction of more homes.

Schwartz said anyone who’s willing to volunteer four or more hours a week to help staff the store should give it a try.

“Hours are flexible, you don’t have to be locked into a rigid schedule, and there’s no experience necessary – the staff is great at training,” she said. “It’s also a great feeling to pay it forward. Whether you want to work in the store or swing a hammer, there’s always something to do.”
With the ReStore’s business so far going better than expected, Burd is already looking ahead to the possibility of future expansion.

“We have more donations than we can fit in the store,” Burd said. “We’ve been storing spillover items in a warehouse. If we had our way, we would double in size. We need that generous benefactor to write a big check and make more of an impact in our community. Right now, we’re only limited in what we can do by the footprint of the building.”


For more information about the ReStore run by Habitat For Humanity of Northern Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties, visit http://www.glensfallshabitat.org/ReStore or call (518) 793-7484.