Welcome to the Quad-Cities -- QCQ&A
Progress 2010 Page

List of Advertisers

Habitat ReStore was Kuhn's vision and a perfect job
Comment on this story
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert/twelvaert@qconline.com
Cindy Kuhn, director of Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Davenport, stands near some of the products available at the store on Dec. 11. She got into the business after a life-changing mission trip.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert/twelvaert@qconline.com
Cindy Kuhn, director of Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Davenport, stands near some of the products available at the store on Dec. 11. She got into the business after a life-changing mission trip.

DAVENPORT — A humbling trip to Guatemala drove Cindy Kuhn to the realization she could never be content with letting the good things go to waste.

Ms. Kuhn, director of Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 3629 Mississippi Ave., Davenport, found her niche when she opened the store, selling donated furniture, home accessories and building material that otherwise would have wound up in landfills.

She was an office worker for her husband Dan's home-inspection business for about 20 years before deciding to open ReStore. Before that, she was an engineer.

Now, Ms. Kuhn, of Bettendorf, runs a nonprofit that generates revenue for the Quad-Cities Habitat for Humanity and, as an added bonus, helps families who otherwise would be unable to renovate their homes.

"It's a leap; it's a departure," Ms. Kuhn said. "And it's certainly not, in engineering school, what I thought I might do, but I love it."

It was no quick decision made on impulse but a gradual realization that she could help people in ways she never before thought possible.

"In 2001, I went on a mission trip with my church to Guatemala where we built a home for a family who had been living in a tent structure, like a plastic bag structure," Ms. Kuhn said.

Three years earlier, the family's home had been devastated by Hurricane Mitch, which had maximum sustained winds of 180 mph. The makeshift tent had served as their primary shelter ever since.

"It was kind of like after Hurricane Katrina, except they had to wait," she said, explaining the slow recovery process many poorer nations face after natural disasters. "They don't have the infrastructure in those countries to go in and help them.

"[It was difficult] re-entering our country, where we can just throw stuff away because we don't like the color anymore — it's out of style," Ms. Kuhn said. "It's really hard to jump in after being in a place where they didn't even have enough materials to put together a sturdy house."

She said coming to terms with our culture's over-abundance of "stuff" especially was challenging after that eye-opening visit.

"That was a real difficult time for me," Ms. Kuhn said about struggling to readjust to a culture that embraces consumption, rather than making do with what's available, as was common in Guatemala.

She agreed to lead an adult Sunday school class on the subject of materialism, answering the call from a fellow church member, and, through her research, she discovered stores that resold donated materials to low-income families.

"I happened to be between jobs at that time and thinking, 'This is something I can get excited about,'" she said.

Ms. Kuhn and her friend, Nancy Foster, who was equally passionate about the idea of reuse, planned a series of excursions to several reuse stores across the Midwest.

While in Chicago, the pair volunteered with one organization that received unwanted material and home supplies from big-name local affiliates, including a Kohler merchandiser.

"The thing that we didn't like about that organization's model was that you had to be a low-income person or disabled to shop there, and we didn't really want to check people at the door whether they were poor enough or disabled," she said.

Their second stop at the Habitat ReStore in Madison, Wis., yielded more encouraging results, Ms. Kuhn said. The store was only a year old, and the manager gave them budgets, paperwork and all the information needed to start up a ReStore of their own.

After a few more visits to other established ReStores, the two pitched their vision for a local resale shop to the Habitat for Humanity board in June 2002.

"They took a real courageous move, I think, and voted to let us do it," she said, adding that the two didn't have much of a relationship with the board at the time. "We just kind of came in off the street and said, 'Here, we think you should do this.'"

The board offered no money as an initial investment, so the pair turned to Kathy Morris, director of Waste Commission of Scott County, who introduced them to solid-waste-alternatives program grants.

She and Ms. Foster, the assistant director, had been collecting and storing materials, but after winning a $50,000 grant — not nearly as much as Ms. Kuhn thought necessary — they decided "what the heck."

By November 2002, they found a warehouse, used at one point as a paintball arena, and the owner agreed to waive rent for the first three months, Ms. Kuhn said.

To keep costs low, they kept the interior sparse and rarely ran the heat, she said.

"We were stretched pretty thin. We didn't have much of a staff, and it was 50 degrees in here all winter."

All the hard work and long hours of that first year were draining, she said.

While it was fun to raise money and see it go to a good cause, the steady flow of quality donations and consistently growing sales put her in a position to strike a better balance and invest in the store.

They started with better lighting, and growth continued through the years, and the store expanded its selection to include home health supplies in late 2012.

Now, Ms. Kuhn said she works with a small, paid staff and about 50 "over-qualified" volunteers who donate time and expertise because they believe in what her store stands for.

She recalled a conversation she had with a friend many years before starting ReStore.

"Wouldn't it be cool to have a business where you just had people that were really qualified, did a good job and liked what they did, and there wasn't all that bickering and infighting?" she asked.

"In so many ways, now I feel like I've got that. Why would I want to go somewhere else?"

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)