Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are set for 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, at a 16,000-square-foot site that formerly housed Extreme Motor Sports at 4506 North Lee Highway adjacent to Don Ledford Automotive Center.
Other than the removal of aging carpet that was replaced with a coat of hypoxy and some fresh interior paint, the massive structure — which is actually more spacious than the existing 12,500-square-foot center on the south end of town — was essentially move-in ready, according to Paulette Smart, ReStore director.
“The overwhelming majority of our donors are on the north end of town ... and the majority of our customer base is on the south side of town,” Smart explained. “We realized we were missing a key opportunity not to have a presence on the north end. We’ve been talking about this a year or more.”
Opening a second ReStore is also about customer and donor convenience, as well as responding to consumer need.
“We got a call asking if we were interested in this building,” Smart said. “It just fell into our laps.”
But it was a timely fall.
Although the new donation center will open with more modest business hours — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday — its operation is prepared to flex depending on customer demand, Smart said. In the meantime, the Grove Avenue site — which is in the expanded building that originally housed the Cinema Twin Theater — will maintain its existing hours Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“In the beginning, the ReStore on the north end will operate only three days a week, but we are prepared to expand the hours of operation based on business volume,” she cited.
Smart sees no problem in offering two donation centers in the same town. Admittedly, it is rare for any Habitat for Humanity affiliate to operate more than one ReStore in a community the size of Cleveland; however, the area’s acceptance of the discount retailer over the past three years has elevated its gross sales to the top 100 of the 800-plus Habitat ReStores operating in the U.S.
“It’s a staggering number,” she conceded. “But it’s attributable to the generosity of this community and to the respect that the local Habitat affiliate has earned here.”
Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland was chartered in 1990. In the past 22 years, the nonprofit organization has continued to grow. In early December, it will dedicate the construction of its 100th home. Currently, Habitat is developing three exclusive subdivisions — Century Village on 20th Street, Southgate Hills on South Lee Highway and Victory Cove on Victory Street which is just off South Lee Highway.
“For a community our size, it is rare to have more than one ReStore,” Smart said. “But then, you just have to look at our community and how it supports Habitat for Humanity.”
By comparison, Charlotte, N.C., a city with a population of 4 million, has three ReStores. Knoxville has two stores. Smart pointed to metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Memphis and Nashville that also have more than one ReStore.
“[The fact that we are opening a second ReStore] speaks to the kind of community we live in,” the longtime Habitat employee stressed.
She called Cleveland and Bradley County “a faith-based, blue-collar” town that provides a diverse mixture of businesses, cultures and incomes.
“We’re a good mix,” she said, and pointed out that cities with diversity are traditionally good locations for Habitat ReStores and Habitat for Humanity affiliates.
Habitat volunteers and staff have been working to remodel the North Lee Highway center’s interior since mid-September. The nonprofit took full possession of the building Oct. 1.
In order not to overshadow the recent grand reopening of the newly expanded Grove Avenue donation center, Habitat and ReStore staff and volunteers kept public discussion of the second center at low profile. However, five weeks ago when the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and donation center marquis was erected on the shoulder of North Lee, the buzz went public.
“This [second donation center] was probably the worst-kept secret in town,” Smart chuckled. “But we did not want this in any way to overshadow the importance of the expansion and reopening of the original ReStore on Grove Avenue. So we chose not to make any formal announcements until after the first store’s grand reopening.”
Since the North Lee signs went up, the Habitat ReStore’s phones have been lighting up. Callers have included equal numbers of customers and donors.
“People have been wanting to know when they can start shopping and when they can start donating to the new donation center,” Smart pointed out.
Once the second ReStore opens, business at the Grove Avenue center is expected to dip slightly; however, once customers and donors set their own routines, and once the novelty of both stores has slowed, then Smart believes both locations will thrive.
In the beginning, both centers will offer a full complement of inventory ranging from smaller household items, to electronics, to furniture and to construction and home improvement materials. Both sites will accept material donations and both will support a full customer base.
Through the first few months, Habitat will analyze customer needs and consumer preferences to determine the best sales opportunities for both locations.
“I think there will be plenty of business to go around,” Smart stressed. “The community has already shown how generous it is. I don’t think this second store will take away from the first. Obviously, there will be a dip [in sales and donations at the Grove Avenue site] in the beginning, but once we get beyond the grand opening of the North Lee site we believe things will even out.”
Both donation centers will operate with the same telephone number (423-473-4610).
Even as staff and volunteers continue to prep the new site for the Nov. 8 grand opening, donations continue to pour in to Habitat. Some are being designated for the Grove Avenue site. Others are being set aside for the North Lee ReStore.
“There’s been no stopping,” Smart said of the ongoing work to reopen the first ReStore while deploying volunteers and staff to the North Lee location as well. “Our staff and volunteers have been amazing. These past few months, many have worked six and seven days a week. We’ve had simply a tremendous amount of buy-in.”
It hasn’t been easy, but in the long term Smart knows the ReStore’s continual growth will benefit the Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
“It was really ambitious to open a second store less than a month after the grand reopening of the first,” she confessed. “But it will be worth it.”
The new ReStore’s opening will offer the same deals as the Grove Avenue site’s reopening. All inventory will be marked down at a 25 percent discount, and the store will be filled with plenty of Christmas decorations and other holiday items.
The second site won’t waste any time with community exposure. An invitation-only VIP Sneak Preview will be held for a collection of Habitat for Humanity and ReStore supporters on Monday, Nov. 5, at 5:30 p.m. The grand opening will come three days later.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, the new ReStore will host the monthly Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Coffee.
Another benefit to the new site is its location which is not more than a long stone’s throw from the city’s second busiest intersection — Huff Parkway and North Lee Highway.
“More than 30,000 motorists drive through that intersection every day,” Smart said. “Every drive-by is a potential customer. Obviously, we’re much more highly visible here in this second location. The opportunities are just tremendous.”
Opening the second ReStore excites Smart, but she hasn’t lost sight of its purpose.
“All proceeds go to building houses for qualifying families in Bradley County,” she stressed. “Every purchase, at either ReStore location, helps Habitat for Humanity to build another house.”
Of having two stores in one town, she added, “This is the real deal. We build homes. We keep stuff out of the Bradley County Landfill. And we offer some really good prices to customers.”
It also goes back to community and volunteers, such as employees at Mars Chocolate N.A. Smart said the company provided employee support to prepare for the Grove Avenue center’s grand reopening, and now is sponsoring 10 worker volunteers all day every Thursday in October.
“They are amazing,” Smart said of the Peerless Road plant’s support for Habitat.
And it’s not just the candy makers. For the past 22 years, Habitat for Humanity has grown thanks directly to volunteer support, and donations, from an array of area businesses and industries, she stressed.
“Like we’ve been saying all along, this community has been so generous to us,” Smart said. “That’s why, and how, we’ve gotten to where we are today.”