Celebrating 20 years of salvage

Retired Salvage Manager Marj Leone on vacation in Alaska

In 1998 Marjorie Leone was a self-employed carpenter who had just been hired by The RE Store for their new deconstruction crew. At the time, deconstruction was a revolutionary new idea in which unwanted, but perfectly-good building materials and furnishings, are dismantled specifically for the purposes of reuse or recycling. The deconstruction business was booming in Seattle, and The RE Store needed a crew to help the Seattle School District retrofit every Seattle school according to new seismic regulations. The crew salvaged cupboards, flooring, chalkboards, and more in order to make way for new safety features and furnishings.

Leone’s first foray with The RE Store was supposed to be a temporary gig but it quickly turned into a full time job. “Initially I was hired to help with the Highland Park School in Seattle,” says Leone. The Highland Park school was the first of nearly 100 Seattle School District schools to undergo retrofit. “The retrofit project ended up lasting 12 years. I was hired on full time for what turned out to be a long time,” she chuckles.

In those days The RE Store had only been open for five years, and didn’t have the resources that it does now. “The store operated on a shoestring budget. We had two old pickup trucks with ladder racks for hauling. They often broke down and one needed to have its wheels chocked whenever stationary because it had neither a parking gear nor a parking brake,” says Leone. For 18 months, Leone and the other team members drove to Seattle four days a week from Bellingham. The days were long and the pace exhausting, but the work was inspiring. The concept of deconstruction was new and there was a lot of interest in salvage work within the community. “I think it’s a blip in our history to be throwing so much away. Older people who grew up during the depression just naturally reused materials – they understood. Young people think reuse is totally revolutionary.”

The work took off from there. “[At the time] so much of what we were doing was new and we couldn’t anticipate how to be fully prepared.  We dealt with situations as they arose and sometimes things were pretty chaotic.” Time, funding, and devoted people helped the organization grow. Now, as The RE Store approaches it’s 25th year anniversary, the world is a seemingly different place but there is one constant: Leone is still salvaging.

This month, Leone celebrated her 20th anniversary with The RE Store. Today, she manages the deconstruction program (now called salvage) that she helped launch and oversees the salvage crew; a group committed to saving materials from going to waste. “Our mission is to keep reusable building materials out of the landfill.  I like that reuse saves natural resources and I like that it respects the labor, the effort, and skill of every person that was involved in the creation of each item.” Leone may have a firm grasp on the past, but don’t ask what the next 20 years will look like; “People keep asking me this! I have trouble thinking more than a few months or a year in advance; life is fluid.”

Next time you see Marj around the store, congratulate her on her 20 years of work with The RE Store.