That’s the description used by Paulette Smart, director of the Habitat ReStore, whose organization hosted a unique VIP Sneak Preview for volunteers, donors and Habitat board of directors members at the affiliate’s second discount store whose doors open to the public later this week.
“We are set for Thursday,” Smart told the Cleveland Daily Banner in between conversations with longtime Habitat for Humanity supporters on the newest ReStore’s sales floor. “We’re ready to go. We’re ready to cut that ribbon and let the people in.”
Judging from early reaction, the people will be happy to accommodate.
With a spirited chuckle, Smart said Monday afternoon she stood on a ladder in front of the storefront taking down window paper in preparation for the evening’s VIP event which was only an hour away. Once North Lee Highway motorists could see inside the picture windows, they couldn’t help themselves.
“Immediately after taking down the paper off the windows, six cars pulled into the parking lot,” she said. “People were asking, ‘Are you open yet?’ and ‘Can we come inside?’”
With some disappointment, Smart had to ask them to return Thursday once the ribbon has been cut and the doors officially opened. But this kind of potential customer response is a nice problem to have, she offered with a warm smile.
“There’s been a lot of excitement about this new ReStore donation center since we went public with the announcement,” she said. “People are just really excited. We’ve been getting a lot of comments and every one of them has been positive.”
Like she did a couple of weeks ago when confirming the second Habitat ReStore site was coming to Cleveland, Smart still holds firm to the belief the community can support two locations — the existing one on the city’s south end at 300 Grove Ave. (the old Cinema Twin Theater) and now the northern annex at 4506 North Lee Highway adjacent to Don Ledford Automotive Center.
“New donations are coming in every day,” she stressed. “We’re getting donations at both locations.”
Similar to the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and grand reopening of the original ReStore once its expansion was completed in early October, the new donation center will offer a 25 percent discount on all inventory through Nov. 17, Smart said.
For now, the new ReStore’s hours will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; however, Habitat leaders like Smart and new store manager Ken Brock will closely monitor business volumes. Based on customer demand, the second retailer’s hours could be expanded.
Smart said Monday’s VIP Sneak Preview came with purpose. One, to introduce it to residents on the city’s north side; and two, to show volunteers, supporters and donors what they have made possible.
“This is a brand new venue,” she said of the discount retail site. “A lot of our board members, volunteers and donors have not had the chance to see the store. We thought this would be a good time to show them what their dedication to Habitat for Humanity and the Habitat ReStore has made possible.”
Some of those attending were amazed, including Bob Sain, 88, a retired JCPenney executive who helped to anchor the original Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland affiliate in 1990 and through its early years. Sain is still involved, but admits with a laugh that he has “slowed down.”
“It’s great to have this second store,” Sain said. “The Cleveland and Bradley County community has been so good to us.”
Sain recalled helping to lead the Habitat affiliate’s construction of its first 33 houses; however, the budget finally allowed for the start of a full-time staff. Matt Carlson was hired to serve as executive director and Jerry Franitza came on board as construction supervisor.
A core group of volunteers remained and, working with additional staff that slowly was added, the Habitat for Humanity affiliate began to blossom.
“Matt and Jerry, and a lot of others, have taken us from those first 33 homes to now over 100,” Sain said. Habitat’s 100th house will be dedicated Dec. 5 during a Christmas luncheon.
Standing with his good friends and fellow Habitat volunteers Jim and Fran Tucker, Sain reflected on the early days of the Habitat ReStore. In the beginning, Habitat used a small warehouse on 11th Street that was provided by the former Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products, now Whirlpool Cleveland Division. From this tiny spot, Habitat moved to the former Sanda Hosiery site on Edward Street and “... just kept expanding,” Sain cited.
In 2008, Habitat purchased and remodeled the former Cinema Twin Theater, and only three years later embarked on a major expansion project that doubled the store’s size. Its ribbon cutting and grand reopening came a month ago.
Sain also reflected on the early days of construction after the local Habitat affiliate was chartered from an idea spawned by Stan Martz within the Broad Street United Methodist Men’s Club.
“It took us about two years to build our first house,” Sain recalled. But the Habitat “staff” included only volunteers, most of whom were retirees and some still held down full- or part-time jobs.
“Now look at what they’re doing,” he said with a smile. “They’re building eight to 10 houses a year. This is just a fantastic program.”
Another Habitat old-timer who was also on the ground floor of the Habitat affiliate’s birth agreed. (Jim) Tucker, 83, retired executive director of the former Boys Club of Cleveland which is now the Boys & Girls Clubs, joined his good friend in comparing the early days of Habitat to modern times.
“This is just great,” Tucker said of the second ReStore. “I’m surprised at how all this has cranked up.”
The affiliate’s growth and the emergence of the donation centers is overwhelming to the longtime volunteer whose recent medical ailments haven’t come close to dimming his excitement about Habitat for Humanity and the difference it is making in Cleveland.
“I never thought it (Habitat for Humanity and the ReStores) would be this big,” the widely respected and well-liked Tucker stressed. “This is a dream. I guess you’d say it’s a dream-come-true.”
Another anchor visionary of the Habitat for Humanity dream — along with Don Rollens, Chuck Haney and Jim Burns, among others — is Elwood Sperry, an American Uniform retiree who is no longer active with the local Habitat affiliate following his family’s move to McMinn County.
“I never thought we would see something this grand,” Sperry said while perusing ReStore shelves filled with donated dinner ware, kitchen gadgets and other household items. “This is just fantastic. It has been done well.”
Like his good friends Sain and Tucker, Sperry admitted a growing Habitat for Humanity affiliate and now two ReStores is off the charts of his imagination.
“I don’t think any of us ever dreamed back then of what we’re seeing now,” he offered. “This has really taken off.”
Sperry echoed Sain’s assessment of those early years.
“It was a slow start for us ... but that’s when we started getting more volunteers,” Sperry noted. “From there, everything just started growing!”
Thursday’s ribbon cutting and dedication ceremonies will get under way at 11 a.m. The public is invited. Once the ribbon is sliced and the doors are unlocked, the city’s second Habitat ReStore will be open for business.
“Every dollar spent in our Habitat ReStores — both of them — goes toward building a house for a qualified family,” Smart stressed. “That’s why I call it the store that builds homes. Because that’s what we do.”
Eligible Cleveland and Bradley County families who are approved for Habitat homes join into partnerships with the nonprofit. Families help to build the houses using “sweat equity” hours. They purchase the homes using no-interest mortgages.
It’s a principal that defines the Habitat motto of providing “... a Hand Up, not a Handout.”
Additional information may be obtained by calling the Habitat ReStore at 423-473-4610.