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ReUse in the Milk-Bone district

For anyone fixing up an old Buffalo home or looking for unique materials and household goods, help arrived Saturday.

Green demolition company ReUse Action has opened a retail store in the Fillmore section of Buffalo’s East Side, selling building materials, fixtures and furniture that otherwise might have ended up in landfills.

The store takes up the first floor of a massive industrial building at 980 Northampton St. near the Milk-Bone factory, dubbed the Guild @ 980.

It is 15,000 square feet of open space filled with hardware, windows, insulation, radiators, barn wood, newel posts, desks, ceramic tile, church pews, bathtubs, stained glass and anything else worth reclaiming from properties destined for demolition.

It hopes to serve artists, designers, architects, do-it-yourselfers and average customers from the surrounding working-class neighborhood.

“We want the store to be accessible to everyone,” said owner Michael Gainer. “We want to have things that people in the neighborhood can buy cheaper than at Home Depot, and then we want to have those commodity products for designers and people who want to restore their home to its original grandeur.”

That diverse target audience is reflected in the store’s price points. For bargain shoppers, there are brand-new plywood doors – seconds from a manufacturer in Ohio – that run $10 to $15. On the other end of the spectrum is a handmade wooden door salvaged in Brooklyn and tagged at $220.

“I want this place to be a service to the community,” Gainer said. “I can’t just have old expensive stuff.”

In addition to the reclaimed products, the store sells consignment antiques, as well as artwork, refinished furniture and home products made using reclaimed materials by local artists.

Gainer expects to begin filling the second floor with inventory soon, and has plans to turn the third floor into an incubator of relevant workshops – affordable space where glazers, reupholsterers and other artisans can open up shop and offer compatible services to the store’s customers.

He and his colleagues have already done something similar at the Foundry, a business incubator and creative education space for entrepreneurs at 298 Northampton.

They’ve given the neighborhood around the ReUse Action store a trendy new moniker: the Milk-Bone district. “We’ve specialized in this sort of destination-oriented location, trying to break down the segregationist attitude against the East Side,” Gainer said. “We want people to come and see that they can feel comfortable, that it’s just a neighborhood like their neighborhood, just with a different set of challenges.”

Although it’s a for-profit company, a major part of ReUse’s purpose is to hire and mentor at-risk youth who produce goods or services that can, in turn, be sold to sustain those jobs and other mentoring and support programs.

In 2011, Gainer worked with Buffalo’s Outsource Center to hire a team of 20 young adults to strip the historic French renaissance-style building that is now Hotel @ the Lafayette.

Gainer was able to sell all of the materials salvaged during that project to a single buyer in New York City, the profits from which paid the workers’ salaries. At least two of those workers went on to build careers in the trades.

“It gave them a consistent paycheck, an eight-hour workday, and valuable skills and experience,” Gainer said. “These kids are off-the-charts intelligent and they want to succeed, but because they didn’t do well in an academic environment, a lot of them ended up dropping out of school.”

Gainer refers to ReUse Action as an “S-Corp,” with a benefit corporation attitude and approach.

“It’s a for-profit because it’s simple. I just pay myself $25,000 a year and put everything back into the company,” Gainer said.

“We got into trouble at Buffalo Re-Use because of a board that didn’t understand what our intentions were and didn’t approve of the decisions we made, and that’s fine. We know that what we do has value and we don’t have to convince anybody of that.”

Gainer was one of the original founders of Buffalo ReUse, a similar green demolition retail operation he helped launch in 2008. He was fired from that operation twice over claims of mismanagement, first from his position as executive director and then as program director. Several staff members left the organization at the time, and Buffalo ReUse organization has languished ever since. It is located in a condemned building on East Ferry Street, and has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts and unpaid taxes.

So how will this ReUse project be different when the other one didn’t work?

“It did work,” Gainer said. “What we created was a powerful example of grass-roots economic development, job creation and education in the community,” he said.

“In three years, we went from an operation that was largely government funded to one that was almost exclusively earned income and had a staff of 22 and a $1 million budget. And we did it because we hustle and because we care and because we have a business model that is effective.”