Community Forklift is looking for a new home after 17 years


Location is everything, Nancy Meyer knows. Although the year The space she inherited when she became CEO of Community Forklift in 2007 may seem like an unusual location for a nonprofit storefront, but the old industrial lot along the Anacostia River on the edge of Edmondston has done well for 17 years.

People drive from D.C. and Silver Spring or make the short walk south from downtown Hyattsville to find what Community Forklift has to offer in its 40,000 square foot warehouse – at a huge discount.

Part salvage yard, part Ikea showroom, the group sells refurbished furniture, surplus building materials and a variety of salvaged antiques and oddities from the DC region at affordable prices, to hobbyists, small businesses and local collectors. There were families from Hyattsville, Edmondston and Riverdale. Just a short walk or bus ride away.

Now Meyer must find a new home. The owner of Washington Gas wants the property back, the nonprofit announced this month, as demand for warehouses in the D.C. region spikes due to demand spurred by the pandemic, putting Community Forklift in a historically challenging market for industrial real estate.

“If we had to go too far from where we are now, we would be very disappointed,” Meyer said.

Washington Gas spokesman Andre Francis did not respond to questions about the decision to stop leasing the property to Community Forklift, but said the company will work with a nonprofit to find a new home.

Community Forklift It opened in 2005, when a group of builders and activists met to reduce waste in DC and discuss where to store leftover construction materials they collected from local construction sites. Tips led the team to the Edmondston warehouse, an abandoned industrial site owned by Washington Gas. The nonprofit expanded into a salvage and restoration service to sell the furniture and furnishings the group refurbishes.

The site became an eclectic showroom filled with rows of refrigerators, light fixtures and sofas lined up with buckets of paint and pallets of bricks. Displays of the charity’s quirkier purchases adorn rows of furniture: antique typewriters and sewing machines, an ornate chandelier and a white fiberglass reproduction of the Statue of Liberty.

Homeowners, local businesses and independent construction contractors come to save. The charity donates supplies to schools, community organizations and low-income families. Rescue enables an unlikely connection between donors and recipients in need: by refurbishing donated minifridges. You will find hotels It is sold to diabetics who need to store insulin. Local suppliers receive a tax break for donating excess flooring purchased by independent contractors. To save money on their projects.

“We are part of this dynamic grass-roots economy in the local community,” Meyer said.

D.C.-based entrepreneur and builder Gerald Williams III comes to Community Forklift for discounted building materials. But returning to the nonprofit’s ever-changing collection of donations has become a matter of loyalty for him, Williams said this month as he picked through the tiles in his warehouse.

“This is a very accommodating city,” Williams said. “[And] This is the place where you can find variety and taste.

For Del Manti, who is a volunteer with the refugee settlement Combination Good neighbors to Capitol Hill, Community Forklift is a lifesaver when the team needs dressers, tables, and beds — fast — for incoming families. Many of the families they settled in, recent immigrants From Afghanistan, they live in East Riverdale, a 10-minute drive from the warehouse. After several visits, Community Forklift awarded them an annual grant to support furniture purchases.

“Working with them is something special,” says Manti. “If you go somewhere else, we will go anywhere. We hope they stay in nearby areas.

At Templeton Elementary School, community coordinator Camille Hill and counselor Adrian Smith said after the Community Forklift donated sleeping couches to families, many of them are refugees.

“The family was grateful,” Smith said. “[And] Our children come to school well rested.

Meyer said Washington Gas has not set a timeline for the move, but wants the nonprofit to move out “as soon as possible.” Finding another location and completing the move could take more than a year, she added.

“Washington Gas has continued to support Community Forklift for more than 15 years, as we have,” Francis wrote for The Washington Post. We will continue to work with Community Forklift during their transition.

Asked at the warehouse, Williams was shocked but not surprised by the prospect of a community forklift relocation.

“I’m used to going somewhere nice,” he said. “That’s what life is all about.”

Smith said she’s concerned Templeton staff and families may have trouble accessing community forklifts if they move further away. Sometimes, she chooses furniture for the family, they can go to the warehouse to collect them.

“We want to keep resources like this where our families live,” she said. “We don’t want to take it from them.”

Warehouse space faces a historically challenging market as the Mayer Group plans to relocate. Vacancy for industrial real estate in the DC metro area, which includes Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, is 3.5 percent as of June 2022, according to research by commercial real estate services firm JLL. Rents increased to $11.43 per square foot, up $2 from pre-pandemic levels.

JLL Senior Research Analyst Ben Caffey said the historic increase in warehouse demand and rents was driven in part by e-commerce giants. Companies like Amazon, which bought more warehouse space to meet demand for more online shopping and faster delivery during the pandemic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“When you look at the historical statistics of metro DC, we’re dealing with a completely different market right now,” Caffey said.

The trend isn’t limited to D.C. Last week, Community Forklift in Philadelphia’s Philly Rackley closed after a similar salvage nonprofit was charged for materials from the city’s warehouses. Competing with “corporate behemoths” that other companies don’t deliver frustrates Meyer. The same support that Community Forklift provides to individuals.

“If you want an air conditioner, you either have money or you don’t,” Meyer said as an example. “If not, you can come here.”

Prince George’s remains the cheapest and most competitive jurisdiction for industrial warehouse space in the region, David Iannucci, president and CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview. (Average warehouse rent in Prince George’s County It’s smaller than Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, he said. JLL report.) PGCEDC said it is working with Community Forklift to identify potential relocation sites.

“They’re a great operation, and we want to keep them in Prince George’s County,” Iannucci said.

The Community Forklift Warehouse will remain open while the search for a new home continues.

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