Habitat for Humanity ReStore opens in new location along south Iowa Street, expands inventory of furniture, other large items

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Erika Zimmerman, executive director of Lawrence's Habitat for Humanity, is pictured at the organization's ReStore on Nov. 29, 2022.

It almost is a truism in a college town: When you get a place with more space, get more couches. (The two hardest parts about moving my college-age son were the number of couches, and getting people off of them.) The situation is not quite the same at Habitat for Humanity’s new ReStore, but couches and other furniture are playing a big role in the new space.

As we reported in July, Habitat for Humanity reached a deal to move its offices and its ReStore out of East Lawrence and into commercial space near 27th and Iowa streets. That move has happened recently, and the nonprofit store is starting to implement its new strategy.

It involves couches and lots of other upholstered furniture.

When the store moved into its new space at 2108 W. 27th St. — a space that used to house Factory Direct Appliance and is just a few doors down from McAlister’s Deli — the ReStore decided to add all types of upholstered furniture to its inventory.

Erika Zimmerman, executive director for Habitat for Humanity, said that furniture, cabinets and appliances were the three most popular types of items the ReStore sold at its previous location near Seventh and Connecticut streets. So, when the ReStore decided to move into the new space, which is slightly larger than the old store, Habitat decided to expand its offerings in all three categories.

The furniture category may be the most noticeable because the previous selection often was limited to smaller pieces, like curio cabinets and other such items. Now, the store is taking donations for all types of upholstered furniture such as couches and recliners, and also is taking much larger pieces.

“We are getting a lot of kitchen tables, which is great because they are really selling,” Zimmerman said.

That’s the idea behind the move — increase sales, which in turn will provide Habitat for Humanity more dollars to build affordable housing in the community. Zimmerman said Habitat officials are optimistic that the new location will produce more sales, in part because of the expanded inventory, but also because the location is more visible and accessible.

“Parking is tremendously better here,” Zimmerman said.

The location also is among other retailers on south Iowa Street, and Habitat officials are betting that not only more shoppers will show up at the location but it also will be easier for community members who want to donate items.

Those donations continue to be the main way the ReStore acquires its inventory. When the store started 17 years ago, it primarily was building contractors who would donate items. Sometimes they would have a little bit of lumber or other material left over from a job, and they would donate it to the ReStore. Other times, they perhaps were removing a sink or a window that still had a lot of good life, so they would donate that too.

Those types of donations still happen from contractors. The store has lumber, lighting, hardware, paint and other other items you might expect to find in the back of a contractor’s truck. But now with the growing emphasis on furniture and appliances, the store is getting more donations from ordinary homeowners and residents. Unlike some other used merchandise stores, people looking to make a donation do need to make an appointment. The ReStore also isn’t able to accept everything people bring to the store. That doesn’t mean items have to be in perfect shape, though. They just need to be good quality.

“We do have customers who really do want a project,” Zimmerman said. “They love those pieces that have a scratch or a missing piece, and they want to take it home and give it some love.”

Hopefully, some of those homes they take their treasures to will be new affordable homes. Creating affordable housing continues to be the mission for Habitat for Humanity. Zimmerman said the store plays an important role in providing funding for its affordable housing projects.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Habitat for Humanity’s new ReStore in south Lawrence has more room for larger items, such as this unique children’s bed set.

Over the past several years, Habitat for Humanity typically has built two to three houses per year, plus provided 40 to 50 home repairs. With a more successful store, Zimmerman hopes to expand the number of homes the organization builds each year. The near-term goal is to get to four new homes a year, she said.

Habitat is on that path currently, but you have to look to the east to see it. The organization is building three to four new homes in Eudora, using a USDA rural loan program to help finance the project. It’s the first time in about 20 years that Habitat for Humanity is building in the eastern Douglas County community.

“We are excited to be back,” Zimmerman said.

In addition to a slightly larger store, the 27th and Iowa project also included new administrative offices for the nonprofit. The new office space should make it easier to meet with potential homeowners and serve those who are already part of the program, Zimmerman said.

Construction work on the office part of the project is still underway, and there are a few improvements to the store space that also can’t be completed until that work is done. Zimmerman expects to have the work done soon, as Habitat is hosting a ribbon-cutting and grand opening celebration at 4 p.m. on Dec. 13 to celebrate the completed project.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The new Habitat for Humanity ReStore near 27th and Iowa streets is growing its inventory of furniture that is has for sale.


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