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Habitat ReStore was Kuhn's vision and a perfect job
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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?"







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  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.




(More History)