August 10, 2005 - Carol and Mart Gordon never intended to keep the brand new kitchen countertops and appliances that they had builders install in their just-built SaddleBrooke home last year.

The couple wanted a stainless steel setup that the builders could not provide. They wanted to rip out the cream-colored ensemble, but they didn't want to just throw it away. And thanks to a new discounted building supply store that Habitat for Humanity Tucson is setting up, they didn't have to.

"It was a really great feeling to give something that was brand new to people less fortunate - that usually get just hand-me-downs," Carol Gordon said. "We felt really good about that."

The Habi-Store, set to open in the spring, will sell donated appliances and building materials at its 16,500-square-foot site near Palo Verde Road and Ajo Way and put the proceeds toward building more Habitat for Humanity homes. The store already has begun accepting donations.

"It's very similar to the Salvation Army, except our niche will be home improvements," said Terry Dee, the soon-to-be store manager. "We won't collect things like dishes or record albums. We'll be collecting things to improve homes, like paint, carpeting, appliances and furniture."

With all the building in the Northwest, Dee said he will spend much time in the area making appeals to home building companies and to people who are doing remodeling.

"I've been to Rancho Vistoso every day for the last 10 days," he said. "At this moment, that's where we're getting all of our donations, pretty much."

The Habi-Store concept is not unique to Tucson. In a decade, about 150 similar stores have popped up around the United States to support Habitat for Humanity's efforts to provide homeownership opportunities for families with low-incomes and also to keep new, high-quality building materials out of landfills.

In Tucson, alone, enough building materials go into the landfill annually to build 200 houses, Dee said. Those materials include lumber, wiring, dry wall and nails.

"It's a stunning number," he said. "If we can stop that flow, that would be great."

Environmental stewardship is not the store's main reason for existing, though, Dee said. Its main function is to help Habitat for Humanity build more houses in an economy that has been hard on charitable organizations.

"We are one of the lucky nonprofits in that our donations didn't drop dramatically in the last few years, but they have plateaued," he said. "We've been building 23 to 25 houses a year in Tucson, and it's been that way for three years. The funding just hasn't been there to get us to the 27th or the 28th."

The Long Realty Foundation is covering the startup costs for Habi-Store, Dee said.

"We couldn't have done this without them," he said.

Recently, Dee was driving along Moore Road when he saw a Lowe's Home Improvement Center truck getting loaded up with a washer and dryer, he said. He introduced himself to the homeowners and asked what was to become of the appliances.

They replied that Lowe's was taking them away, and the driver of the Lowe's truck affirmed that they were going to throw the washer and dryer out.

"I said, 'Why don't you put it in my truck,'" Dee said.

Another family in the vicinity of Moore Road recently donated a stove to the Habi-Store, Dee said. The family had just moved to Oro Valley from the Midwest with the stove in tow and didn't need the one already in the new home.

"It happens with carpet a lot, too," Dee said. "People moving into a new subdivision home will take the low-end carpet in the house knowing they're going to lay tile when they move in. It's a brand-new carpet. There's not a footstep on it. Same with doors and windows."

When the Habi-Store opens next year with a range of new and lightly used materials, Dee said he expects that a mix of customers will show up to shop.

"There will be remodelers who might be looking for a good deal in house remodeling, low income homeowners, and bargain hunters," he said.

"In Phoenix, they have one section of high-end collectibles. I had a call from a lady in SaddleBrooke. She bought this armoire from where she lived. It's from Ethan Allan, and it was something like $2,000. We're going to pick that up and maybe sell it for $500 or $600."

None of the donated items will go directly into Habitat for Humanity homes, Dee said, because homes in the organization's neighborhoods have uniform appliances and appearances. There's another reason, too.

"When we build a Habitat house and sell it to the person that gets that house, it's being sold as a brand new house, so it has to be brand new," he said.

The goal for the store, Dee said, is that it will get to the point, within five years, at which it is allowing Habitat for Humanity Tucson to build five more houses a year than it can now.

Donations to the Habi-Store are tax-deductible.

For more information, call 326-1217.

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