Opening soon in La Grande: A business where the bottom line takes a back seat to a humanitarian cause.
Entrepreneurs for Humanity: John Winters, right, headed up the committee to establish Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store in the old Dome building on R Avenue. Ryan Hildebrandt, left, wrote the business plan. Both are members of Habitat’s local board of directors. - Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK
Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity is venturing into business, opening a “Re-Store” to finance its charitable operations.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store is a store that takes donations of building materials and appliances — things that might otherwise be thrown away — and sells them to the public.
The money benefits Habitat for Humanity projects. In Union County, Habitat for Humanity has built five houses for families on limited incomes since the mid-1990s; recently, it broke ground in La Grande for a sixth.
“We take the proceeds from the store and sink them back into the new house,” said local Re-Store Committee member John Winters.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. It works to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness, helping people who cannot afford it obtain decent housing.
The international organization has built more than 250,000 houses around the world, providing more than a million people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.
The La Grande Re-Store will open in the former Dome Plumbing and Electrical Supplies Building at 2304 East R Ave., behind Wendy’s on Island Avenue.
Dome Plumbing went out of business earlier this year when Ryan Hildebrandt, who had owned and managed it five years, decided to change careers. Hildebrandt is now the manager of the Island City branch of Sterling Savings Bank.
Hildebrandt’s grandmother, Ruth Neal, owns the 2,000-square-foot building, which housed Dome Plumbing for more than 35 years.
Neal is renting it to Habitat for Humanity at a reduced rate, charging only enough to cover her insurance and taxes. Her taxes have been lowered because she is renting to a charitable, non-profit group.
“It (the building) has been practically been donated to us. We’re getting it at a very reasonable price,” Winters said.
Shelf Space: Ryan Hildebrandt shows off the Dome building’s ample storage capacity. Plans are to fill the shelves with items such as appliances, plumbing and electrical supplies, roofing and flooring materials, lumber and more. - Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK
The local Habitat chapter has been working to start a Re-Store since March. Winters, Hildebrandt and Patrick Henderson were the key volunteers.
According to the business plan drafted by Hildebrandt, donated items will be sold to the public at prices significantly below retail.
In the beginning the store will be open on Saturdays only, though the plan is to expand hours as business improves. A paid manager, assisted by Habitat volunteers, will run the place.
The La Grande Re-Store is one of several operating in Oregon. Other locations include Albany, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, Lebanon and McMinnville. In many areas, they are of critical importance to Habitat’s efforts.
“In the larger population areas, they’ve done very well and grown quickly,” Winters said.
Winters said Re-Stores are good for communities because they help fund housing for people with low incomes and provide a shopping alternative for people in the market for building supplies.
Not only that, they’re good for the environment.
“A lot of stuff that might wind up in landfills comes to us. The Department of Environmental Quality really likes us,” Winters said.
Winters, who chairs the local Re-Store Committee, said the big challenge now is to stock the store. He said he has been soliciting donations from local contractors, building supply companies and discount stores. Individuals also are encouraged to donate.
Winters said items should be in good, usable condition.
“We don’t want people to think this is a dumping point,” he said.
He said several local businesses have expressed interest in the Re-Store concept, and one local contractor, Elgin-based WC Construction, has agreed to supply items on an on-going basis.
“They will save stuff for us and every now and then we’ll truck it down,” Winters said.
dome building gets second life: The building that formerly housed Dome Plumbing and Electrical Supplies will be pressed into service as the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. - Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK
Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner families.
Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable loans. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses.
Winters and Hildebrandt are longtime members of the local chapter. Both are members of the board of directors, and both say they strongly believe in what they are doing.
“I especially like being on the board. It serves a good purpose in the community. We can really make a big difference,” Hildebrandt said.
Winters, a naturopath with a practice in La Grande, said he volunteers his time because he enjoys helping people become independent.
“It’s intriguing to me because it allows people to help themselves. This is not a handout for them. They have to pitch in and help build, and they have to pay their loans back,” he said.
To learn more about the new Re-Store, or to donate items, call 663-9515.