Getting Down to Business with the Habitat ReStore

'My focus since I started here is the whole recycling aspect'

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Every shop and store has a different story to tell. To get some perspective on the Habitat for Humanity ReStore story, The Taos News sat down with its manager, Tom Drake. Here’s what he had to say.

Hey, Tom. How long have your been manager here?

I’ve been here about three years. As the ReStore manager, it’s my job to collect the donations, get them sorted in the back and make sure they all get put out front. Basically, I’m responsible for everything at the ReStore.

How many employees do you have? Small staff?

There’s two full-time and two part-time employees.

What about the number of volunteers?

We get the big groups. Like next month, for example — it’s the spring break period and there’s three different groups of college kids coming to Taos. It’s usually around 20 to 30 volunteers each time. March is one of the busiest months for volunteers.

And what sort of help do they provide?

We try and come up with a list of things for them to do. People can work inside doing anything from cleaning to organizing. Sometimes they help us price things. And upstairs, there’s a whole book section – and a lot of [the] time, the college kids want to work on books. Recently, we just got a ton of book donations.

So the workflow follows the donations?

Yeah, I’d say so.

Is everything that’s for sale something that was donated?

The only thing we buy is this GreenSheen paint. It’s sort of a signature ReStore product in New Mexico and Colorado. It’s made from recycled paint. People seem to love it and it’s still about half the cost of going to Walmart.

How much business does the ReStore do?

August [2016] was the biggest month the store ever had at about $30,000 in total gross sales. It goes down a little bit in the winter. The money we make here goes to supporting the administrative costs of the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

Tell me about the physical footprint of the ReStore.

The outside is mostly the building materials, things like sinks and toilets, plumbing stuff and pipes. There’s always someone looking for a sink. And then there’s a wood pile. Here we have a little gardening section for things like grills and pots. A lot of people come here to get their gardening stuff because it’s a lot cheaper. For everything out here, it kind of depends on the season, but people are always looking for stovepipes. Compared to other ReStores, we have physical challenges. If you’ve been to a bigger ReStore, they have everything inside of a warehouse-type space. The challenge here – because of the outside – is to protect everything. And that’s where the volunteers come in real handy. Everything gets snowed on in the middle of winter and they clear it out so we can actually sell it.

Do you coordinate with other ReStores, or [is Taos] independent?

We’re independent, like how our local Habitat for Humanity office is independent [from the international Habitat for Humanity].

Is there anything that sets the Taos ReStore apart from others in the region?

One of the most difficult things for us is our artwork. We get some neat pieces in here, lots from Taos artists. Some of the paintings are listed for thousands of dollars, but we can’t sell it for that price. We can’t list something for an exorbitant price because our customers aren’t looking for a $9,000 piece of art.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve come across?

We had a big donation and found a photograph of a former Cabinet member of one of the previous presidential administrations, Donald Rumsfeld. The picture was of him at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarrón. His wife came in to pick it up and even she said, “Wow, this place is great.”

What about the most meaningful thing you’ve come across?

If a person passes away and they don’t have any children or family living here, sometimes someone will get everything out of this person’s estate and bring it to us. We take that responsibility very seriously. You’re getting all of these personal things and you want to treat that with respect. It’s not just stuff. Makes you think about your own mortality a little bit and your attachment to things.

How has the ReStore changed since you took over as manager?

What’s happened is the ReStore has become almost a community center. Just in terms of sales and traffic, we’re probably almost double what we were three years ago. People just come by just because they want to see the regulars and the people they know. This used to be a plumbing supply place, so we started by just cleaning up the interior space and making things look more presentable. One employee has been instrumental in creating the art wall, and she designed our front entryway. Another employee was great because she was really tuned into social media. Everybody is helping bring our little ReStore up to the next level because each new employee brings something new.

What about you? What’s your ReStore passion?

My focus since I started here is the whole recycling aspect. That was the reason I was really interested in this job – the old mentality of just keeping things out of the landfill. We have a Dumpster out there and try to put hardly anything in it. I’m always out there Dumpster diving, too. We recycle metal and end up recycling appliances that don’t work.

What’s the right way to do donations? I assume you’re not supposed to just drop off your old, nasty couch.

There are periods where people will do that, but the proper way is during normal business hours. Just bring it in and we’ll give you a receipt for the donation so you can go back and get your tax deductions.

The most important question: You’ve always got music playing in here, so what’s your favorite CD?

Everyone here is sick of me listening to “Capsize” by Frenship, an L.A. band my best friend’s son started.

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