As Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County looks forward to late summer, its recently relocated Spike’s Habitat ReStore is teeming with customers every Friday and Saturday, and Habitat’s 50th and 51st homes are almost ready to be occupied in downtown Statesboro’s Blue Mile.
The grand opening celebration for the new ReStore at 201 Johnson Street is now slated for Aug. 27, with festivities from 9-11 a.m. This event will also help mark the ReStore’s 20th year in business and the 25th year of the local Habitat effort. But first, dedications are planned for the two houses, built by Habitat and its donors, volunteers and the new homeowners.
“August is going to be busy,” said local Habitat Executive Director Linda Christy.
That’s not to say that July hasn’t been busy for Habitat. After both the headquarters and the ReStore moved from the old location on East Cherry Street to the recently leased building on Johnson Street, the home improvement and housewares-themed thrift store has been back in regular operation all month. While Christy answered questions in the front office on a recent Friday, ReStore Manager Arliesha Mikell-Lovett and volunteers were busy helping customers in the store. The parking lot outside was packed with vehicles.
“This location is more visible, so we’re getting more new customers coming in every day, and we’re really picking up on donations,” Mikell-Lovett said. “It’s everything that we wanted, so we think it’s going to be a great success being over here. So yes, we’re busy.”
With typically 100 to 125 shoppers coming in during the nine hours a week that the store operated through July, the store saw about a dozen new customers each day it was open, Mikell-Lovett said. For now, the store hours remain 1-4 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Christy and Mikell-Lovett said they plan to expand back to Wednesday through Saturday hours this fall.
Donations of items for sale at the ReStore, such as furniture and home furnishings, scheduled for pickup on Saturdays, have increased from typically eight to 10 previously to 25 or 30, Christy said.
Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County staff members say that visibility is the main advantage of the 201 Johnson St. location over the previous one on Cherry Street that Habitat occupied for four years.
Both are on the fringes of downtown. The old location was beside the railroad, a couple of blocks east of South Main Street, in a warehouse rented from an out-of-town owner. The new location is also in a warehouse-type building, but about three blocks west of South Main.
The building on Johnson Street is slightly smaller than the old one, but the rent is lower, Christy said. With the new place, the organization gains a local landlord, which is an advantage in addressing any problems with the building, said Marcus Toole, Habitat of Bulloch County resource development coordinator. But he, too, mostly talked about visibility.
“If you’re going from the courthouse to Iron Gate, and all the communities around the country club, this is the main drag, you drive right by this place,” Toole said. “So it’s really helping us in that sense.”
Besides, he said, neighborhood redevelopment is a goal of Habitat for Humanity internationally, and the Johnson Street location puts Habitat within walking distance of a neighborhood that is a focus of local redevelopment efforts.
“We’re very much involved with neighborhood revitalization with the Blue Mile project, so this is also adjacent to the neighborhood where we’re doing revitalization,” Toole said.
A vision not just for commercial redevelopment along South Main Street, but for ongoing residential development in the blocks on either side of it, helped Statesboro become one of eight national finalists in the America’s Best Communities competition. After receiving $150,000 in quarterfinalist and finalist prizes, Statesboro is in the running for a top prize of $1 million, $2 million or $3 million to spend on redevelopment. The competition sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel will name national winners next spring.
Blue Mile houses
For now, the 50th house that Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County has built, at 119 Mikell St., and the 51st house, next door at 312 Institute St., are both in the Blue Mile zone. The dedication ceremonies are slated for 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, respectively.
The organization owns a third lot in the Blue Mile area, for its 52nd home.
Meanwhile the ReStore’s new location makes its used and repurposed furnishings and appliances more accessible to this same neighborhood, Toole said. Sale of donated items through the ReStore supplies about a third of Habitat’s local operating budget, Christy said.
The new location isn’t perfect. Although the retail space has been reorganized to make it more convenient for shoppers, the building provides less storage space than at the old store, so the ReStore is looking for a donation or low-cost offer of a storage facility, Mikell-Lovett said.
Just as in the previous building, the shopping space in the new one is neither air-conditioned nor heated, and this summer’s soaring temperatures have been a challenge for volunteers. So Habitat, Christy said, is interested in adding some form of affordable climate control for the future.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.