Westmoreland Community Action to sell donated building supplies

| Friday, March 30, 2012

Westmoreand Community Action, an antipoverty agency based in Greensburg, will branch out into social enterprise — doing charity by doing good business.

The nonprofit group will open Shop Demo Depot , a business that will sell surplus and reusable building supplies, in Mt. Pleasant on April 28.

"The reason we started it is we were looking for a form of social enterprise and the good it can do in our communities," said Chief Executive Officer Tay Waltenbaugh.

The enterprise -- which will accept tax-deductible donations from businesses, manufacturers and the general public -- landed in Mt. Pleasant after finding a location that was tailor-made for the venture.

Waltenbaugh and Jack Brown, the agency's director of community services, recently agreed to terms on a $550,000 lease for the roughly five-acre property formerly occupied by Build-It Cook's Way lumber business at 1 Cooks Way.

The agency has already stockpiled up to $450,000 in merchandise, ranging from windows and doors to officer furniture and light fixtures, at three warehouses, one Smithton and two in Uniontown, said Brown, who will serve as the operation's general manager.

"We'll probably be selling things at 50 percent of a typical rate offered by major merchandisers ... and that's if it's brand new," Waltenbaugh said.

Westmoreland Community Action has been planning the venture since the fall of 2010.

It was searching for a place that could benefit from its mission of eliminating poverty by helping families and communities. It will collaborate with the Fayette County Community Action Agency and Community Action Southwest, which serves Washington and Greene counties.

At least half of the employees of the business will be citizens living in poverty, primarily single mothers with young children, Waltenbaugh said.

"There were a number of communities in the county that are really struggling which we were looking at as a possible destination for Shop Demo Depot," Brown said.

Waltenbaugh said the Mt. Pleasant site negated construction expenses. The business has a ready-made 14,000-square-foot showroom, with a total of 43,000 square-feet of space under roof, Brown said.

"There is a very viable Main Street in Mt. Pleasant," Brown said. "That helps bring people into town and helps the economy."

The overall poverty level in Mt. Pleasant -- or the equivalent of a single head of household with three children living on an annual salary of roughly $23,000 -- is 16.7 percent, or 744 out of 4,454 borough residents, according to the most recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, said Cheri Cavanaugh, a marketing and planning specialist with Westmoreland Community Action.

The overall poverty level in Westmoreland County was 10 percent in 2010, according to the bureau.

Last fall, Shop Demo Depot's present staff underwent training in deconstruction of a WCA-owned building. The project was led by Ted Reiff, founder and president of The ReUse People of America Inc. of Oakland, Calif. He will return this spring to train the staff in warehouse logistics and merchandising.

"We've noticed an increase in these types of organizations, particularly in the number of reuse warehouses for both environmental and economic purposes, which is why we started a training program for deconstruction," Reiff said.

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