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The Retrophile Files: Built It Green! NYC Recycles Building Materials

by DeDe Sullivan (02/27/12).

Antique theatre seats from a Manhattan school auditorium, salvaged by Build It Green! NYC, can be had for $35 each.

When you think of New York City, green living is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, there are a few non-profit organizations hoping to change that. One of our favorites is Build It Green! NYC, the city’s only nonprofit retail outlet for salvage and building surplus supplies. Build It Green! NYC has made it its mission to keep everything from panel doors to high-end refrigerators, forgotten antiques and movie props out of landfills while offering deep discounts on their resale.

On a recent visit to their newly opened second rescue center in Gowanus, Brooklyn, we spotted a wide range of beautiful things that were saved from the city dump—from antique iron building hangers, a pre-1920s dental cabinet, claw foot tubs and more. We recently met with the organization’s founder, Justine Green, to learn more about how this operation is greening up to the Big Apple.

DeDe Sullivan: How did Build It Green get started?

Justin Green: We opened our doors in 2005. A large developer in NYC (Durst Organization) provided a grant and materials from the construction of an office tower at 1 Bryant Park near Times Square and residential tower near Penn Station. A total of 21 buildings were being torn down—including a Broadway Theater and housing for Franciscan priests. We salvaged more than 80 tons of material from the projects including theater seats, slabs of marble toilet dividers from turn of the century and lots of cherry trim and paneling from a bar.

DeDe: How much waste does building salvage create for NYC?

Antique post office windows from the original Grand Central Terminal Post Office. The windows—with brass frames, antique glass and metal bars—are more than 100 years old.

Justin: Forty percent of New York City’s waste is from construction and demolition waste. As part of our mission as an environmental organization to lower NYC’s impact on the environment—we are trying to demonstrate the value of materials that are currently being thrown out. From amazing antique sinks to brand new kitchen cabinet sets, we keep those materials out of the landfill every day. We help the environment, create local green jobs, and save New Yorkers money on purchasing building materials. We also help preserve historical materials.

DeDe: Can you tell us, in terms of weight, what building salvage amounts to each year in NYC?

Justin: We have kept about 1,800,000 pounds of material out of the landfill in the last year. There are lots of stores like ours around the country to donate reusable building materials to. Check out the Building Material Reuse Center for listings. Habitat for Humanity runs more than 300 similar stores. If there are any interested donors out there, if you work with a nonprofit, you can get a tax deduction on the materials you donate.

DeDe: So what does your organization do with the money you earn?

Justin: We create green local economy and jobs. We provided more than 3,000 hours of green-collar job training programs last year. We also give materials and support to community environmental efforts. For example, we are providing 4,000 boards to gardens at schools and in the community to build raised beds—a donation worth about $40,000. We have also provided paint for school mural projects, materials for sculptures, chairs for senior citizen community centers, among numerous other projects.

DeDe: Any deconstructive projects you want to share with us?

The Elks Lodge in Elmhurst, Queens, where a large mahogany bar was rescued.

Justin: Since we operate in New York City, we mainly work on interiors of larger buildings. Two years ago, we removed a great mahogany bar from an old Elk Lodge in Elmhurst, Queens, where Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats that lived in Queens used to play. A church had bought the lodge and was ripping out the bars. Two sisters that were opening a bar in Brooklyn bought the bar and reinstalled it and it looks fantastic—a great reuse story.

DeDe: Do you see any trends in regard to what your customers are looking for?

Justin: Salvaged and antique lumber is a huge draw for customers. We salvage the wood from old buildings in the cities by working with demolition contractors. The lumber often has a great patina that speaks to its age.

DeDe: Who are your customers?

Justin: Our customers vary greatly from contractors, homeowners, restaurateurs, renters, artists, non-profits—anyone and everyone is welcome to shop at our stores! Often, our customers visit our stores with specific items and sizes in mind, but many times customers come in with an open mind, ready to uncover unexpected treasures.

DeDe: What is your pricing philosophy?

Justin: We price our inventory at 40- to 80-percent off their new or market value. This can be tricky with antiques, so we do our best to research items current value and mark it down from there.

DeDe: What do you have in your inventory right now that is really special?

Justin: We have incredible post office windows from the original Grand Central Terminal Post Office. They’re complete sets, with the brass frames, antique glass and metal bars—they are more than 100 years old. They are amazing so we are hoping to find a good home for them.

DeDe: Any upcoming events you wish to share?

Beautiful wood paneling, rescued from Landmark buildings in NYC.

Justin: We’re having a bathroom fixture sale at both our warehouses this month; 20-percent off through the end of February! We often have volunteer days or workshops—please feel free to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to stay informed about upcoming events and sales at our stores.

DeDe: Drop a few words of wisdom on us; anything.

Justin: We really like this quote from John Sawhill, the former president of the Nature Conservancy: “For in the end, our society will be defined not by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.”

 

Build It Green! NYC has two locations: one is located at 69 9th St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215, 718.725.8925; the other is at 3-17 26th Ave, Astoria, N.Y. 11102, 718.777.0132. Store hours are: Mon. -Fri. 10 a.m. -6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Visit its website at http://www.bignyc.org/.

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DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog, VintageandFlea.com, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at dede@vintageandflea.com!

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