St. Louis has a rich history that can be told best through the foundation, brick, and wood in buildings around the city. Eric Schwarz, the founder of Refab, sees the beauty in these structures as well as the sustainability in the raw materials that can be removed instead of destroyed. Not only is his heart in salvaging history, but it is also in retraining veterans and creating jobs in the workforce. Refab has deconstructed over 100 buildings since its start in 2012, reselling the raw, rare materials that can no longer be found. This saves them from demolition and landfills. The process of disassembling a building may take longer than using a wrecking ball, but it’s also providing numerous jobs. When WIN Warehouse visited one of their deconstruction sites in May, we were told that members of the neighborhood would be working on the building – another opportunity to create a strong sense of community in North City.
Once the materials are removed from the buildings, they find second homes through the Refab warehouse in Benton Park West. Upon entering the building, there are timeless peaked arch windows, chalkboards from 1936 taken from the physics department at Washington University, and you might even catch a glimpse of a 105-year-old bathtub taken from a Clayton mansion that weighs over a ton. Each of these items could have been destroyed in demolition but instead, Eric’s team is giving them a second life.
At the back of the warehouse is a space that WIN Warehouse has been thankful to be a small part of, the Refab Lab. This workshop area for the refabricating of materials lets employees like Eddie and Mike get creative with their skills. Butcher blocks made from reclaimed wood, a custom kitchen cart, and even tables have come from this space. They’ve repurposed burnishing pads received from WIN to use with a disk sander to buff the finish on these tables. The team is currently working on creating a metal shop to expand its creating potential. Eric says, “WIN Warehouse is my favorite new place. I wish I would have connected with them years ago when Refab was founded. The handling fees are more than reasonable and the people there are a pleasure to work with. Not only are we now saving tons of money on everything from toiletries to hand tools to material handling equipment, we find items that significantly expand our operational capacity for a fraction of the cost of new–items that we could only dream of buying, like a refrigerant recovery machine or a beveling tool for preparing welds.” Refab’s received donations list is quite long and includes many items such as a horizontal band saw, flashlights, safety glasses, welding materials, scaffolding towers, and safety boots for new employees. They’ve also recently received the largest donation in WIN Warehouse’s history, a 10-foot-tall, 11,000-pound JET Radial floor drill press. We can’t wait to see all the things they create using this monster machine!