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ReNew closes doors to building recycling store

Founder looks to salvage the concept, this time as a cooperative instead of a nonprofit

Erich Kruger says words of encouragement, offers of support, and project leads for Deconstruction Works can be sent to deconstructionworksvt@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/deconstructionworksvt.

BRATTLEBORO—The man who helped create the deconstruction industry in southern Vermont is getting ready for the next incarnation of his passion.

Erich Kruger of West Dummerston, the founder of ReNew Building Materials & Salvage in 2005, helped popularize the idea of keeping building materials out of landfills and reusing them for other projects.

ReNew, a nonprofit, had a dual mission: recycling building materials and providing local jobs under its building deconstruction program. It closed the doors to its retail store last month.

But Kruger said last week that the concept of building deconstruction and salvage lives on even as ReNew struggles to reinvent itself. He hopes to start up an employee-owned cooperative called Deconstruction Works, which will pick up where ReNew left off.

Right how, Kruger is the only employee. A self-employed carpenter, he said he is taking on small deconstruction projects as they come up.

In the future, however, Kruger envisions a co-op, where worker/owners have a direct stake in the success or failure of the enterprise.

When Kruger founded ReNew eight years ago, it mostly funded itself by offering its services to property owners doing deconstruction work, salvaging the usable materials, and then selling the salvaged goods to contractors and do-it-yourselfers at its retail store.

The store was first located at the former Book Press building on Putney Road, and later moved down the street into the former Town Crier building, which ReNew bought in 2008 with the help of a $1.05 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

But the bursting of the real estate and construction bubble in 2008 led to fewer deconstruction jobs for ReNew, and its financial problems began to grow. ReNew’s board of directors eliminated Kruger’s executive director position in July 2010, but the nonprofit continued to struggle.

ReNew closed its retail store this July, and is reassessing its mission.

Kruger said he didn’t want to talk on the record about ReNew’s financial woes. He said he believes there is a place for the nonprofit, particularly the retail store that was so popular with builders and homeowners.

“More than few times in the last few weeks, I’ve needed something and wished that store was still open,” he said.

Most of his deconstruction jobs these days are solo efforts, but should something come along that requires more help, he said, he has a pool of experienced people to draw on. And when he finds something good in the salvage process, he puts the items up for sale on Facebook.

He doesn’t see Deconstruction Works as competing with ReNew.

“This would be the perfect complement to a renewed ReNew,” he said. “As a cooperative, rather than a nonprofit, we wouldn’t be in competition.”

And he said he sees the cooperative model as a good way for selling the materials that are salvaged, “because the whole team would be marketing as part of their compensation.”

Kruger said that now that home building has picked up again in southern Vermont, he doesn’t really need the extra work. But he said he is still a big fan of giving old buildings a second life.

“I’m just trying to build up people’s interest and ideas,” Kruger said. “There are some tremendous opportunities.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #218 (Wednesday, August 28, 2013).

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