JOLIET – ReStore is getting a makeover.
The nonprofit Habitat for Humanity home improvement store and donation center that specializes in repurposing used and even new household goods is taking on a bit of a new purpose itself in Joliet.
New manager Heidi Serena said she and staff are going to make this spring the space more like a store.
“What we’re trying to do is just create a friendly atmosphere where people want to shop and find treasures,” Serena said. “I’m surprised how many people have the misconception that we don’t sell to the public.”
ReStore is the retail end of Habitat for Humanity. The concept is used in many chapters, where new and used furniture, fixtures, flooring and other items found in home improvement stores are sold to help raise money for Habitat’s central mission of building homes for people who otherwise might not be able to afford one.
The store at 200 S. Larkin Ave. in Joliet opened in August 2011 in what was formerly an electrical supply building. It wasn’t constructed for retail sales, but the building provided Will County Habitat for Humanity an opportunity to start its first ReStore.
Now Serena and staff have some ideas for building up the business’s retail presence.
“It’s not hyperbole to say I have four or five people come in every day and say, ‘I didn’t even know you were here,’ ” said Blake Stepien, floor manager at the store.
People are coming into the store – which is good. But Stepien said many of them say they have passed the building for years without realizing what it was.
Creating a front entrance
Goals for the spring include improving the signs outside to get customers’ attention and adding awnings to make the store more inviting.
Serena also plans to create a front entrance facing Larkin Avenue.
The property has more space in the rear for parking than in the front, so the customer entrance has always been in the back. The front door is an office entrance for employees only. But Serena believes it will be more inviting to have a front entrance for customers, too.
“We’re going to make this store very comfortable for people to come into,” she said. “It’s going to feel vintage.”
ReStore has plenty of vintage items to show customers. Currently sitting in the store is a 100-year-old Chickering baby grand piano.
“A lady from Naperville called us. She paid to have it delivered to our store, “ Serena said.
The piano no longer can carry a tune. But, Serena said, “It’s just the beauty of the piano. It’s 100 years old. That found its way to our store.”
Never know what you’ll find
Customers also will find a random collection of engraved brass doorknobs, marble tiles, light covers and other items from the Old Colony Building, a 19th-century skyscraper in Chicago.
Employee Kristin Scalpelli got a call from the owner of a storage locker in Rockdale who was looking to sell the items.
“I opened one of the filing cabinets and saw the knobs and said, ‘Yeah, I want it,’” Scalpelli said.
One stained glass window decorated with an image that looks like W.C. Fields was bought Friday by Jim Matthews of Chicago.
“It has one of my favorite characters, and I have a perfect place to put it,” Matthews said.
Matthews said he visits the Joliet ReStore often, looking for old parts he can use or just something unique.
“The beauty is they always have different things,” he said.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” agreed Kate Cassidy of New Lenox. “It’s exciting.”
Cassidy is a customer but she also is a teacher who brings students with special needs to the Joliet store, where staff help them learn job skills.
ReStore also at times is a field trip destination for students – and this year, ReStore plans to head out to area schools.
Stepien also serves as education director for the store and plans to go to schools to do special presentations, which will include bringing materials that will allow students to simulate the construction of a house.
“A lot of people don’t even know what Habitat for Humanity is,” Stepien said. “We’d like to get the younger generations interested in Habitat.”