Community Forklift: A Blueprint for Reuse Success

Community Forklift, a nonprofit reuse center located just outside Washington, D.C. , in Edmonston, Maryland, is notable for its rapid growth and relative financial success in an industry where profits are often elusive. Specializing in appliances and salvaged building materials, the center was founded in November 2005 with four employees and has since grown to a team of over thirty. In addition to its store, Community Forklift provides many other important services to its community, including its Home Essentials Program, under which people on government aid, those with disabilities, and senior citizens receive stoves, washing machines, and air conditioners, among other things, for free. This is a product of the Community Forklift’s economic success, says Ruthie Mundell, Director of Education and Outreach. “After finally reducing our debt, we became a lot more stable. We were able to start giving materials directly to neighbors in need.” Community Forklift also hosts events such as First Forklift Fridays, a party on the first Friday of every month featuring local artists and food trucks, and free do-it-yourself reuse and renovation workshops.

However, Community Forklift spends most of their time gathering materials that they can sell for reuse. They have two crews working five days a week to pick up donations from households and businesses. The nonprofit also takes materials from groups that specialize in deconstructing houses and other buildings, such as Details and Go Green Deconstruction. These materials are then taken to Community Forklift’s warehouse, whose customers include low-income homeowners, artists, and those from non-profits, theater companies, community gardens, and schools, among others.

comfork1Mundell points out that there have been many factors that account for their growth to date. “As is often the case with non-profits, the dreamers who are crazy enough to start something up need to bring in people who have operational thinking skills. The biggest reason Community Forklift has grown is that we have been lucky enough to attract these really great people.” Mundell gives a lot of credit to Nancy Meyer, their CEO, for helping Community Forklift thrive. Under Meyer, Community Forklift began to take credit cards, decided to stay open for more days of the week, negotiated a better rent agreement, and brought in more people who would be integral to their success. All of these decisions have helped Community Forklift reduce the debt they accrued during start up. They have also made the clever choice to go after a demographic not traditionally thought of as a thrift store shoppers: the wealthy. In the D.C. area, there is no shortage of people who can afford luxury items. “It was really hard to survive when we were just selling inexpensive hardware. But then we consigned some antiques, people realized we had a diversity of products including high end items, and we started to get more donations of valuable antiques. Now there is a flow of materials and customers from wealthier parts of town,” says Mundell.

If you’re in the DC area, Community Forklift, located at 4671 Tanglewood Drive, Edmonston, MD 20781, makes a great destination for shopping, browsing and donations. They’re open Wednesday and Thursday from 9am-7pm and all other days of the week from 9am-6pm. You can also find them on Etsy, Ebay, Twitter, and Facebook.

This write-up is by Jessica Wachtler. She attends Wesleyan University and is an intern with ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Initiative in Washington, DC.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.