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ReStore store manager Tony Santagata describes the second-hand furnishings shop in Waterford as having a three-fold purpose: raising funds for both the international and Southeastern Connecticut branches of Habitat for Humanity, selling household wares at low prices, and providing job training.
"It's a three-piece pie, is what it boils down to," he said one warm day last week, while a sprinkle of mostly regular customers meandered through groupings of couches, lamps, and plumbing supplies that seemed to cluster organically into surprisingly neat rows and sections.
ReStore moved to 82 Boston Post Road in Waterford from Salem roughly three years ago for more space and to be more centrally located, according to Santagata. The store is part of Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut, which builds homes for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them.
With only three staff members, the warehouse relies on volunteers to stay running. Santagata said the volunteers' commitment "overwhelms" him.
Take Ed Whitcomb, who was working the cash register on this particular Tuesday. Whitcomb said he volunteers "so I can give back, do a little good," and also to give his wife a day to herself.
Then there's Paul Sperling, whose position is funded through Easter Seals, which provides job training for people age 55 and older. Sperling said the store was interesting because merchandise and browsing customers vary day to day.
The process of bringing furniture and other items in, cleaning them up and putting them on display, keeps him in shape, Sperling said.
"I'm staying physically fit and I'm 66," he said.
Customers are arguably just as committed. Jose Lopez, pastor of The Mission, a Pentecostal church in New London, said he comes three times a month, sometimes to find things for his church and other times for his home.
"You find a lot of stuff over here," he said.
On this day, he was looking for a new door for his house. His wife Gloria commented that she once found a set of three paintings from Vienna.
Friends Jennifer Babb and Mel Endress, both of Groton, and their daughters were also browsing.
"We come all the time," said Babb.
Endress said she was looking for a new table and chairs. She said she enjoyed refinishing furniture.
Santagata described the store atmosphere as "controlled chaos."
"We'll be selling a couch and there will be another one coming in that we're cleaning up and putting it on the floor," he said.
Santagata said that with so many donations coming in, staff sometimes stumble upon some surprises. He described how once, the store received a bureau that happened to be filled with women's underwear.
"She forgot," said Santagata, adding as a caution, "Please empty your drawers."
The store is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, and doors are always open for volunteers, he said.
"We love volunteers and always have a task for you."