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Ian-wrecked Habitat ReStore reopens to huge crowds

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 5, 2024

When the Habitat for Humanity ReStore cut the ribbon at its North Fort Myers flagship store to celebrate its reopening, it was expected to be a nice gathering with a nice group of people coming in and buying some of the many things they had stocked.

What was not expected was the need to find parking spaces for the hundreds of people who came ready to get some great deals on everything from glassware to furniture to appliances.

Lines to the checkout aisle stretched all the way to the back of the store, leaving some to wonder if there would be anything left by the end of the day.

Friday was a special day for Habitat for Humanity for Lee and Hendry Counties as it reopened its main ReStore just off Business 41, which was severely damaged in September 2022 by Hurricane Ian, destroying all its merchandise, putting a hole in its roof and severely restricting its ability to do its mission.

Becky Lucas, CEO of Habitat for Humanity for Lee and Hendry Counties, said after sustaining more than two feet of water and finding part of its roof in the parking lot, the decision was to rebuild it, with the fruits of their 16-month efforts celebrated.

“This is our flagship store and we lost 30,000 square feet of merchandise. Everything here had to go to the Dumpster,” Lucas said. “Over the last two months we’ve asked the community not only to help us rebuild but restocking the store.”

The reopening of the main store has merchandise that’s better than ever in a store that looks better than ever, Lucas said. The result was standing room only, with volunteers helping shoppers to find a place to park.

“We hoped the community would come out to support the opening. Never did we realize we would see such generosity and so many of our longtime customers come back,” Lucas said.

The other ReStores in Lee and Hendry counties took up some of the slack, but the flagship location is where much of the money is made to build the houses they sell to qualifying homeowners in need.

In 2021, the flagship store allowed them to build three homes just from the revenue that came from this store in one year, Lucas said. Nearly 20 percent of its revenue came from the stores.

Elisha Baird, vice president of strategic partnership, said this day is long-awaited after the traumatic experience of Ian.

“It’s nice to see all of the staff’s hard work that they put in to make this day possible,” Baird said. “I couldn’t imagine having four parking lots packed and having volunteers manage the parking.”

Shoppers didn’t seem to mind waiting in line for a while if it meant getting a great deal. Karen Cochran came from Labelle via Virginia to do some shopping. She has been to several ReStores and knows the kind of things she can get.

“I saw this was reopening and decided why not, you never can tell. We have found things and the longer I’ve stayed the more we get,” Cochran said. “As you walk through, you might see something else.”