Michelle FitzGerald, general manager of ReUse Depot, 50 W. Madison, in Maywood. (Chandler West/Staff Photographer)

When west-suburban native Michelle FitzGerald was looking for a place for her business to call home, space was a big concern. Not just any storefront will do when you’re looking to showcase the detritus of deconstruction. From ceiling beams and hardwood flooring to front porch columns, complete kitchens and light fixtures, her inventory required square footage, and a lot of it. 

A former armory on Madison Street in Maywood provided plenty of space while also offering easy access to the city and suburbs that supply her inventory. Open at this location since September, ReUse Depot serves a two-fold purpose: it is a greener method of disposing of materials collected in the deconstruction of homes and buildings, and it offers homeowners and businesses a way to purchase used household items, in some cases valuable antiques, for a fraction of the cost of new.

Deconstruction

According to FitzGerald, the breadth of ReUse Depot’s inventory is due to their partnership with a company that works on the other side of the equation. 

“We’re owned by a deconstruction company,” she said, “so they save everything. All reusable, salvageable materials are saved when they take down a building. A lot of the houses that we take down are being bought for the lot, so a lot of usable materials come out.”

Their inventory comes from all over the Chicago area. “We see a lot of teardowns in Hinsdale, FitzGerald noted. “I feel like all of Hinsdale is being torn down and rebuilt. We also get city buildings and buildings on the North Shore.”

ReUse Depot is associated with Reuse People of America, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, founded in 1993 with the purpose of keeping reusable or recyclable materials out of landfills. The organization aims to salvage up to 80 percent of each deconstruction project. 

That ethos is apparent in a tour of their roughly 30,000 square feet of space. Materials are everywhere. From the outdoor lumberyard, which is stocked with species such as iron wood (very dense and water and mold resistant) to piles of wood flooring, trim and panels on the inside of the warehouse, building materials are a sizable part of the inventory, but there is much more to explore.

Inventory

Beyond building materials, ReUse Depot stocks almost everything imaginable that could come out of a house. Bathroom sinks and toilets, from the antique to fixtures less than a year old, are available. Full kitchens, complete with cabinets and appliances, line the aisles. High end appliances, such as professional stoves and wine coolers, tend to move quickly. Mechanical features like hot water heaters or furnaces are available, and FitzGerald says these items, along with appliances, are a big draw for landlords looking to outfit rental properties. Windows, doors, hardware and light fixtures all reflect a variety of eras.

 “One thing I’ve definitely learned here is that if I think it’s ugly, it doesn’t matter,” she said, pointing to a blue toilet and sink. Taste is subjective.” A mid-century wall oven in perfect working condition might not appeal to everyone, but FitzGerald found out, “There’s a whole movement of people who seek out this retro style.”

At times, a customer is very lucky when they walk through the door. 

“We have people shopping, and their taste aligns perfectly with someone else’s because they’ll end up buying a lot from the deconstruction of one house.”

Some customers come in to browse for that one elusive item. Chances are that among the stained glass windows, vintage storage lockers, copper-clad cupola or church pews, they can find a piece like no other for their home.

Customers

ReUse Depot is open to the public and draws a wide field of consumers. “We’re straddling a lot of markets,” noted FitzGerald. “A lot of our customers are first-time home buyers from Oak Park or River Forest, looking for special pieces for their homes. We have some landlords looking to update their rental properties. Homeowners might come in to get some ideas, or send their contractors when they’re remodeling to get some period pieces. A lot of people come in just for the hardwood flooring.”

Many of the items sold will not be used for their original purposes. According to FitzGerald, the older windows are often used by artists for creative purposes, and the old-growth lumber is also popular for artistic endeavors.

Pricing

FitzGerald and her team work a lot on fairly pricing their inventory. 

“Some of the stuff is comparable to what you find at Home Depot,” she said, “so it’s fairly easy to price at resale value. The antiques are more difficult. We might take a trip down Madison Street to Forest Park to see how the antiques stores are pricing certain items.

“We all have our favorite and least favorite items in inventory,” she added. “Some of the most interesting stuff we have, like closet organizing systems, don’t show well, but can be in great condition.”

Details

ReUse Depot, located at 50 W. Madison St. in Maywood, is open every day of the week, except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The website www.reusedepot.org features information on tax-deductible donations, deconstruction services, and an inspiration page featuring customers’ projects completed with materials purchased from them.

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