In the early 1980s, a small group of local citizens got together around a kitchen table one evening to discuss their shared frustration with the lack of neighborhood recycling services. In those days, one had to load up one’s recyclables and take them to a drop-off site at Western Washington University. This meant that very few county residents were recycling.
These kitchen-table recyclers soon learned that other towns around the country had begun to offer curbside pick-up of recyclables, and so they tried to convince the City of Bellingham to offer a similar service. Their initial efforts failed, but that didn’t stop them. Instead, they offered curbside pickup themselves. Three target neighborhoods were identified, and flyers were distributed. Although many people were skeptical and thought the fledgling citizen-led program would never get off the ground, it did. In fact, by 1985, Bellingham Community Recycling (BCR) had expanded its operations to cover ten neighborhoods, owned its own truck and employed a paid crew. Moreover, BCR had begun to conduct programs in the schools designed to teach students the ABC’s of recycling.
In 1989, after the citizens proved it could be done, the City of Bellingham began offering curbside recycling to all city residents. Shortly thereafter, in 1991, Whatcom County followed suit, making it the first County in the State to offer curbside recycling—an impressive feat given the program’s informal and modest start. Even today, some 22 years later, the unwavering commitment and dedication of that small group of citizen volunteers continues to infuse the work of the present-day RE Sources.
To his dismay, he discovered that truck after truck was dumping perfectly good building materials—two by fours and cabinets and oak doors—onto the tipping floor of the facility. As he watched the materials get crushed and then burned, he couldn’t help but think that the forested hillsides near his home were being cut to produce exactly the same materials that were so quickly being destroyed before his eyes.
At about the same time, remodeling contractor Bruce Odom realized that he had a serious problem on his hands. Like many local contractors, Bruce’s basement was chock full of used building materials that he could not bring himself to throw away—beautiful doors, windows and fixtures that his clients had replaced with newer items. Bruce knew other contractors did the same thing—hauled home used building materials that were simply too valuable to discard. Surely if Bruce and his colleagues felt this way about the materials they stored in their basements, others would as well. Bruce contacted Carl and the idea for The RE Store was born.
After putting together a business plan, the two men approached Whatcom County for start-up funds and just months later opened the first RE Store in 1993. The RE Store occupied just 6,000 square feet on Guide Meridian, but it proved to be such a popular retail outlet that within months it had become completely self-sufficient, and Carl was able to return the majority of the County’s grant money unspent. On Earth Day of 1997, The RE Store moved to a new 30,000 square foot home in the Old Town District of Bellingham. A second store was opened in Seattle in 1999, recognizing the larger source of materials in the larger Seattle region. A location was found in the Ballard area with 15,000 square feet of space for the never-ending flow of materials. The organization continued to expand its Pickup and Salvage Services to include full building deconstruction. Deconstruction is dismantling by hand and machine in order to salvage and recycle up to 95 percent of the building.
In the spring of 2004, the Bellingham RE Store moved its parking lot and flipped the entire store to make the former emergency back door into the new front door. This was done to accommodate the restoration of the Whatcom Creek estuary that abutted The RE Store’s old entrance. This was successfully completed in the late summer of 2004 and was an excellent opportunity to improve parking and street access to the store and to reconfigure various departments.
Summer 2005 saw the launch of a significantly upgraded website and outreach program. Fall 2005 heralded the kick-off of the campaign to purchase and remodel a permanent location in Bellingham to house The Sustainable Living Center. This center will house the RE Sources offices and The RE Store, space for workshops, and more. The RE Store continues to develop and grow, offering regular workshops on do-it-yourself home improvement, green building, used materials, & conservation.
In 2007, with word that the Old Town District building would be torn down, The RE Store and RE Sources moved locations to their current home in the Fountain District. The new location now features the Sustainable Living Center, a community events center focused on environmental education and skill building, and the RE Patch community garden.
The RE Store partners with other non-profit organizations and local businesses to sponsor, support, and coordinate community events, home tours, and many other educational happenings. Visit The RE Store website for more information.
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