Chapter 5: Our First Move To Our Second Home
By: David Spangler
As some folks may remember, the RE Store’s original home was at the corner of Meridian and Kellogg Road (see My RE Store Memories, Chapter Two). I was an early staff member at that time, and it was fascinating to witness the RE-Store grow between 1995 and 1997. As the word spread about what the RE Store was and what it was doing, it expanded staff, added a second truck and its first trailer, and tackled a busier pickup and salvage schedule as it reached greater distances. It also increased customer counts and transactions. Bursting at the seams, it now needed a much larger—and more centralized—location to serve its customers.
Discussions about moving had been ongoing throughout 1996. The ReSources Board of Directors, ReSources Executive Director Carl Weimer, and RE Store Manager Bruce Odom weighed the pros and cons of various city locations to rent, each month bringing news as they narrowed down the options. In February of 1997, leadership decided that the former site of Bellingham Sash and Door at 600 W. Holly Street, downtown, would be our new home.
Today the site at 600 W. Holly Street is an over-grown ruin, a fenced-off wildland of invasive weeds among crumbling asphalt and concrete foundations. But back then, however, it was a ramshackle campus of parking lots, gates, alleys, and large, old structures, two of them combined possessing 30,000 square feet of retail space—the largest retail footage in downtown Bellingham. Although city code issues had yet to be rectified with the enormous, adjacent warehouse, the site had potential—it was a flexible, centrally located opportunity for the bee hive of the expanding RE Store and its customers.
Just when that move would begin, however, the Board had yet to decide.
Expecting a decision from the Board of Directors at any time, we waited for days, then weeks, going about our usual business. I was on pins and needles with great anticipation. After a few life-changing years at The RE Store, I was ready to move on, but I wanted to participate in The RE Store’s big move before I ended my employment and left on a cross-country bicycle trip that June. Not only would moving the store be an exciting change in the day-to-day work routines, but it would also symbolize a new chapter for me and a coming-of-age for The RE Store. I wanted to be there when that happened.
On the eve of Bruce’s week-long vacation, there was still no answer, but he left instructions for Dave Bennink and I should the Board, in his absence, give the green light to begin the move. To relocate a place like the RE Store, Bruce did not want to waste a single hour once we got the “thumbs up.”
Indeed, that anticipated phone call finally arrived while Bruce was away—the move was a go!
I could not hang up the phone fast enough. We spread the news to our coworkers over the staff radios and the intercom, then sprung into action. Everything up high was brought down to the floor. Low-value items were discounted or freed. When Bruce returned, we toured the empty building of our new home, figured out the logistics of moving the store over the next few months, and worked out the new layouts for each department. To keep our move moving, we scheduled our trucks and fieldwork accordingly. We also reduced inventory as high-value items were stockpiled at the new location, and fixtures were dismantled and reassemble at Holly Street. Whatever was not worth moving was scrapped or disposed of. As the weeks unfolded, our staff and volunteers were spread over multiple locations as we salvaged, did pick-ups, emptied the old place, and set up the new.
Three new faces helped us during this critical phase: Carpenter-craftsman Bob Penny, on a probationary period as our first Field Supervisor built door racks; Pete Bemment, a recent volunteer eventually hired with a grant to process our greatly expanded paint department; and Pete’s wife Christina Bemment, who volunteered in countless ways. Adding these three to our staff of Jay Ward, Jay Darling, Dean Fearing, Dave Bennink, me, and Bruce, our collective ingenuity, skills, and humorous attitude to our unusual cause entered a new era.
With our opening day looming, each department took shape on the new sales floor. But it was clear that we were short on bulky items like cabinets. Right on time, however, the medical district expansion in Mount Vernon, WA, provided us with truckloads of kitchen cabinet sets salvaged from a dozen doomed 1950s tract houses. As our returning trucks filled our void with kitchens painted in every imaginable pastel, others hurried around to prepare for opening day.
Bruce tasked me with repainting and rehanging aisle signs that Bellingham Sash and Door store had left behind. But the only bright paint we had in sufficient quantity was a single five-gallon bucket of nauseating wintergreen not suitable for anything outside of Miami Beach. Next, I painted wintergreen rectangles with names in magic marker on the back wall, honoring our move’s financial supporters. But even permanent ink does not guarantee permanence; These crumbled away during the building’s demolition after our second move only nine years later.
The night before the grand opening, Bruce stood next to me as we gazed at the panorama of our bright, spacious aisles, sparsely stocked retail shelving, and the twelve kitchen sets. He leaned in and asked, “Does it seem empty in here to you?” Secretly, I agreed, but all of us were accustomed to darker, smaller rooms with low ceilings, insufficient lighting, and years of sales floor accumulation. I told him that starting fresh can look stark initially, but it would not take long to fill up. Bruce smiled knowingly, nodding in agreement. Over the following weeks, reusable materials poured in, and he never had to ask that question again.
On the morning of our grand opening ceremony, a local radio station was broadcasting outside under a canopy. Inside the store, beside yellow caution tape strung across the central aisle, Bruce stood upon a raised platform to give a short speech to a paltry but supportive group of maybe twenty-five people. Among this audience were customers, staff, reporters, Mayor Mark Asmundson, city officials, and leaders of other local organizations. I don’t know if hot dogs and soda pop were thrown at attendees, but I know there was a popcorn machine popping away nearby.
Grand opening day was my last shift. During that exciting day of customers and staff drifting about the RE Store’s fresh, new aisles, upstairs and down, I felt fulfilled that I had reached a meaningful milestone of helping The RE Store start a new chapter in a new home. It was time to go.
The following morning, I stopped in to see everyone, visiting as a customer for the first time since my initial visit in 1994. It was not a good day for Bruce. Their sewer pipe was backed up on their second day open. He was too distracted to chat, but he took it all in stride and had staff working on it. I said farewell and left to begin not only my summer but the rest of my life.
I had no idea then that my involvement with The RE Store would not end there.
Not only did the RE Store hire me back temporarily after my bike tour, but when I started my own truck business in 1998, I diverted truckloads of items through the RE Store’s doors, and the RE Store sent many customers my way for years. As time passed, the RE Store also positively impacted my life with new work opportunities, unforgettable salvage experiences, and a memorable parade of unique personalities the RE Store would later hire. While some left and I never saw them again, I still cross paths with many of these characters. A few became close friends. One of them I would marry.
But I’ll save that for another chapter.
Stay tuned for My RE Store Memories: Chapter 6!