In the early 1990’s a group of building contractors in Whatcom County formed a small trade guild. Among many topics and ideas that the guild discussed was the idea of a venue for saving used building materials from unnecessary disposal. Bruce Odom was a member of the guild and stepped up to the plate to lead the project.
Bruce mused, “I was just the most persistent and positive about the idea.”
The group approached RE Sources, a non-profit organization that ran waste reduction education programs and had started curbside recycling in Whatcom County in the mid-1980’s. The board of RE Sources was bold enough to see and develop the vision to tackle the material exchange facility. Under the umbrella of RE Sources, the group applied for and received a state grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology for $30,000. Whatcom County Solid Waste administered the grant, with Jack Weiss overseeing the grant reporting and disbursement (note: Weiss is currently a Bellingham City Council member – June 2010).
Carol Rondello was the executive director of RE Sources when the grant was applied for. By the time the grant was confirmed, Carl Wiemer had replaced Rondello. Weimer was gung ho on the project, surveying waste at the transfer station and promoting the fledgling business. (note: Weimer is currently a Whatcom County Council member) Bruce was hired as the manager of the operation, setting up the framework that would allow the business to hit the ground running. He found a combination store front with attached warehouse space on the corner of Meridian and Kellogg Road.
In the weeks before the store opened in August of 1993, the group received a golden opportunity to salvage Bellingham School District’s Silver Beach Elementary. Odom acquired permission to store materials in the Meridian Street warehouse before the lease had been signed. Truck load after truck load of prime old growth fir doors, trim, textured glass and built-in cabinetry flowed in from the elementary school salvage project. David Bennink was involved in the school salvage, and was the second person hired after working in a paid internship at RE Sources.
The store opened with a rich assortment of high-quality material and created a buzz in the community. 75 percent of the school materials were sold in the first ten days of being open. Soon after, contractors and home owners started emptying their garages, storage units and pole buildings. Individuals brought used cabinets, windows, doors, fixtures and everything else you could think of.
“People would come in and say ‘You stole my idea.’ I think people’s common values had been waiting for the right time and formula to bring something like this into Bellingham,” said Odom.
Bruce reminisced about some of the wild things he saw come and go in his eight years managing The RE Store .
“People were always putting much items that were too large onto vehicles that were too small and too old. This one guy bought a 6 inch by 20 inch beam that was about 20 feet long. He showed up in a little pickup that was not the right rig to carry this huge piece of tree. At the customer’s insistence, we loaded it onto this poor little pickup and the beam caved in the roof of the truck. Unbelievably, he drove away. Happily, we never read about any accident in the newspaper…”
Coming soon – Part 2
Bruce Odom went on to start his own used building supplies salvage and resale business, Odom Reuse, in Grawn, Michigan, close to Traverse City.