Columbia salvage sale proves popular for businesses, homeowners seeking unique flair

Three porthole windows, an antique dough press and a “for sale” sign from Columbia’s oldest standing building were just a few notable items available this year at the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Salvage Sale.

The three-year-old annual sale, which was held Saturday at Rock Quarry Park, sells off architectural materials salvaged from Columbia buildings set to be demolished or redeveloped.

City officials say the sale provides a creative way to repurpose old items and divert them from going to landfills. But the event also offers a unique opportunity for local homeowners or businesses looking to restore a building to its original state, or simply renovate their properties in a creative way.

More than 500 items were featured at this year’s sale, harvested by a coterie of city volunteers and independent hobbyists. Many items, including century-old floorboards, clawfoot bathtubs and amphitheater seats, came from properties with significant historical ties to the city, such as the Bull Pen Café and the Niedermeyer Apartments.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, who chaired the commission before becoming mayor, said for home or business owners looking to create a particular vibe or simply instill a little history into their property, the sale has become a great resource.

“When old buildings come down in Columbia, a lot of the significant architectural features are removed,” Treece said. “(They’re) then opened up to the community in sales like today for people to come look for the perfect door, or the perfect sized window, or maybe just a unique part of Columbia’s history.”

Treece said that while salvage sales are quite common in larger cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, the market is just now developing in Columbia.

According to the commission, the sales have generated more than $8,000 in revenue to date, bringing in more than $2,000 this year alone. That revenue will go back to the commission and toward historic preservation efforts, according to Pat Fowler, the commission’s current chair.

In Kansas City and St. Louis, salvage yards and other nonprofit or privately run sales bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year.

Derrell Cone, who worked salvaging building materials for Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City between 2004 and this January, said on average, the organization annually brought in up to $250,000 selling salvaged goods.

Eric Schwarz, who runs a salvaging nonprofit in St. Louis called Refab, said his organization is looking to bring in nearly half a million in revenue this year. Between Refab and other nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, he said, organizations in the St. Louis area bring in more than $2 million total selling harvested building materials.

“So yeah, there’s quite a market for salvaged stuff,” Schwarz said.

Fowler said Columbia’s sales are proving to be popular. And eventually, she said, the city wants to host more than one a year. “We’re hoping that we can get to a place where local contractors restoring homes and individuals restoring homes can count on us for more regular sales,” Fowler said.

For Taylor Adams, who flips homes under the name Black Dog Enterprises, this year’s salvage sale provided an additional avenue to find materials for his work. His private construction company specializes in restoring homes built before 1960, he said, and finding the right doors, flooring and trim to match the original style of a home takes some legwork.

“A lot of people in real estate cut corners, and they do things because it’s the cheap way to do it,” Adams said. “I try to do things because it’s the right way to do it.”

The extra effort is worthwhile if it helps create homes that people are proud to own, he said, and he believes it brings character to his Ridgeway neighborhood.

Taylor Adams, left, browses through stacks of salvaged doors, looking for any that might match a house he’s renovating that was built in the 1930s. | Kristoffer Tigue/Missouri Business Alert

Josh Wexler also said the sale helped give his property character. Wexler, who co-owns the downtown Columbia kombucha bar DrinKraft, used materials bought from the salvage sale last year to help furbish his business, which opened last month. That included old radiators, wood paneling and other miscellaneous items — rare things you can’t find at the hardware store, he said.

“What’s amazing is this old stuff, they don’t make it anymore,” Wexler said. “You’re not going to get rust and patina, and years of paint. All that cool effect, you know?”

Fowler said that’s the point of the sale: to cultivate and celebrate Columbia’s history and use it to give the city character. “As we age, I think it becomes more important to us to think about how we connect with our past, our present and our future,” she said.

Many see the salvage sale as a good way to save money, too.

Tracy Eichhorn and Janet Flett, with the Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance, have attended two of the city’s salvage sales, looking for cheap and creative ways to decorate their Ashland art gallery. “Between us, we’ve got about $20,” Eichhorn said, laughing.

Overall, Eichhorn said, their gallery has spent a total of $40 between the two sales on things like shelves and doors.

Adams also saved on the five doors he purchased at this year’s sale. “I paid $130 for doors that would normally cost about $100 a door,” he said.

Columbia’s salvage sale isn’t just helping grow a needed market, Schwarz said, but could also indicate shifting cultural priorities for cities across Missouri. “I think what is going on in Columbia is unique in Missouri,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a city running its own salvage sale.”

Missouri Business Alert’s sustainability coverage is funded in part by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District.

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