Initially, the idea of having a homebuilding nonprofit open a thrift store seemed a little odd.
But the board had seen that several Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country had opened ReStores and were doing quite well – using the proceeds from selling donated items to fund the construction of more homes seemed to be an effective model.
The first Twin Cities ReStore opened in 2008 on Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis. Initially Habitat had been looking for a building to purchase, but a company called Lyman Lumber was closing their Minneapolis location and offered to donate the last year of their lease, as well as all the lumber in their store. One of the current ReStore employees, Grant Carlson, actually worked at this store!
After about a year at this location, the board decided that a better location could be found in New Brighton, just 100 yards off of I-35W. This was around the time our current ReStore Director, Pete O’Keefe, met then-CEO Sue Haigh, and was hired on from his old position with Target.
ReStore Director Pete O'Keefe shows off ongoing construction at the New Brighton ReStore.
While the store was in an ideal location – it was remarkably easy to get to from any direction thanks to being next to the interstate – there were some drawbacks. The building was set far from the main road, and the ReStore was on the rear end of the building. This made it challenging for people to see where the ReStore was unless they were really looking. The parking lot also only had 25 spaces. This meant that customers who may have driven by intending to shop would see that the lot was full, and turned back because there was nowhere to park.
By the late 2010s it was clear that ReStore had outgrown its space.
Around Independence Day in 2019, Pete noticed that the parking lot for the neighboring tenant was empty. It was the middle of the week, and the space at the front of the building was all office space, so it seemed odd. It turns out the company had gone bankrupt and moved out.
Due to the preexisting relationship with the landlord, Habitat was able to have an early conversation with him and work out a deal. The ReStore could move into the bigger space in the front of the building and simply extend the lease.
The plan was to begin construction in the middle of winter in 2020, when foot traffic would be at its slowest. It would take a large and diverse team to accomplish such a big project.
Volunteers were recruited to help offset construction costs. Volunteers couldn’t do things like electrical or plumbing work, but they could do demolition, painting, and fixturing just fine. Almost 1600 hours were allocated to volunteer work on the remodel, and Habitat saved around $100,000 in labor costs.
Volunteers pull up flooring at the New Brighton ReStore.
An executive from Ryan Companies was on the Habitat Board of Directors at the time, and brought on a project manager who then lined up several contractors to do the work that the volunteers couldn’t.
In addition, Xcel Energy’s Business Lighting Efficiency Program provided a rebate for LED lighting throughout the store, to keep utility costs down and keep the store looking bright.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as planned. COVID left the ReStore with no volunteers, and both stores were closed, so a decision had to be made. Either the store team could turn off the lights and put the remodel on hold, or they could do all of the interior work themselves. Thanks to the large open space they could socially distance with relative ease, so the work continued on.
While it would have opened in May were it not for COVID, the team still managed to get the store open by mid-June.
Many things are different as a result of the remodel to the New Brighton store. For one thing, there’s signage by the entrance to the parking lot, so you can see it from the main road off the interstate. There’s also significantly more parking – 100 spots instead of 25.
That’s not the only thing that changed when ReStore moved from the back of the building to the front. The front portion of the building also had a lot more space. Going from 24,000 square feet to 38,000 was a big change, and one that the ReStore crew was determined to take advantage of.
The team learned from the work done on the Minneapolis location – they built a vestibule at the entrance to give customers space to take a moment as they walked in, and they tore out all the offices at the front to give the space a more open feel.
In addition, the store was laid out in an oval shape since customers have a tendency to turn right as soon as they enter a store, then circle around. This also had the added benefit of allowing the customer to see the checkout lane from wherever they were in the store.
Aisles were also widened to better meet ADA and state requirements, and a secondary entrance/exit for handicap accessibility was added. The wider aisles also allowed for larger items to be more easily moved from one place to the next. Customers also won’t feel crowded as they move through the store.
Wider aisles and the vestibule at the front of the store.
Making an Impact
As a result of all the work put into the new store, sales goals are being met, customers are happy and the New Brighton ReStore ranks in the top 20 of over 1,000 ReStores for the number of drop-off donations.
One thing affecting the number of drop-off donations is the separation of the loading area and the donation zone. Previously these were one combined drive-through lane, and if someone wanted to load something into their truck, they would block the lane for the next few donors who would want to come through. The new zones allow for better traffic flow and makes everyone’s lives easier.
The New Brighton ReStore is also very large compared to most other ReStores, which has an impact, too. The more space you have, the more donations you can accept – and display in the store!
Two of the biggest things that customers have commented on have been the larger furniture department, and how there was much more merchandise in the store than there had previously been space for.
All of these changes wouldn’t have happened were it not for the many people and partnerships that helped bring it together. Some of the key players were mentioned by Pete:
“Jan Hagerman, Joe [Khawaja], Robin [Henrichsen], have all been great and worked together to create the vision of what we wanted the space to look like and turn it into reality.”
Volunteers, though they couldn’t be there for more than a couple of months, were also instrumental in the New Brighton ReStore remodel.
Ryan Companies and Xcel Energy were great partners to work with and provided invaluable services.
And finally, the ReStore employees themselves, who took on more work than expected, kept positive attitudes, and finished the store within a month of its projected opening date.
The New Brighton ReStore wouldn’t be what it is today without them.
The front entrance to the New Brighton ReStore.
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