Community Forklift is looking for a new home after 17 years

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Location is everything, Nancy Meyer knows that. Although the site she inherited when she became executive director of Community Forklift in 2007 seems like an odd place for a nonprofit showcase, the former industrial lot by the Anacostia River on the edge of Edmonton has done well. operated for 17 years.

People drive in from DC and Silver Spring or even take the short walk south from downtown Hyattsville because they want what Community Forklift sells in its 40,000 square foot warehouse – at a deep discount.

Part salvage yard, part Ikea showroom, the group sells refurbished furniture, surplus building materials and various antiques and oddities salvaged from across the DC area at affordable prices, attracting enthusiasts, small businesses and local collectors. Families from Hyattsville, Edmonton and Riverdale have been just a few minutes on foot or by bus.

Now Meyer must find a new home. Washington Gas, the owner, wants the property back, the nonprofit announcement this month, throwing Community Forklift into a historically tough market for industrial real estate as warehouse rents in the DC area rise in the wake of pandemic-related demand.

“We’ll be very sad if we have to go too far from where we are right now,” 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 would work with the nonprofit to find a solution. new house.

Community Forklift opened in 2005, when a group of builders and activists came together to discuss reducing waste in DC and where to store piles of leftover building materials they had collected from job sites. local construction. Tips led the group to the warehouse in Edmonston, located on unused industrial land owned by Washington Gas. The nonprofit has expanded into a salvage and refurbishment service to sell donated furniture and appliances that the group repairs.

The site evolved into an eclectic showroom lined with rows of refrigerators, light fixtures and sofas arranged next to buckets of paint and pallets of bricks. Displays of the nonprofit’s most original acquisitions flank the rows of furniture: antique typewriters and sewing machines, ornate chandeliers, and a white fiberglass reproduction of the Statue of Liberty.

Homeowners, local businesses and independent building contractors come to save. The nonprofit organization also donates supplies to schools, community organizations and low-income households. Recovery allows them to establish unlikely connections between donors and recipients in need: mini-fridges donated by renovating hotels get sold to diabetic patients who need it to store insulin. Local suppliers get a tax break for donating their excess floor tiles, which independent contractors buy to save money on their projects.

“We are part of this vibrant grassroots economy in the local community,” Meyer said.

Gerald Williams III, a contractor and builder who lives in DC, comes to Community Forklift for discount building materials. But returning to the nonprofit’s ever-growing donation collection has also become a matter of loyalty for him, Williams said this month as he picked between pallets of tiles at the warehouse.

“It’s a city that conforms,” ​​Williams said. “[And] this is the place where you can have variety and taste.”

For Dale Manty, a volunteer with the refugee-resettlement coalition Good Capitol Hill neighbors, Community Forklift is a lifeline when the group needs dressers, desks, and beds—quickly—for arriving families. Many families they resettle, most recently refugees from Afghanistan, live in East Riverdale, a 10-minute drive from the warehouse. After several visits, Community Forklift offered them an annual grant to finance the purchase of furniture.

“It’s special to work with them,” Manty said. “If they move, we will go where they are. We hope they will stay in the neighboring area.

Just down the street at Templeton Elementary School, Community Coordinator Camille Hill and Councilor Adrienne Smith said their students’ attendance improved after Community Forklift donated sofa beds to their families, many of whom are resettled refugees.

“Families were grateful,” Smith said. “[And] our children arrived at school well rested.

Meyer said Washington Gas hasn’t set a timeline for the move, but wants the nonprofit to get out “as soon as possible.” She added that finding another location and completing the move could take more than a year.

“Washington Gas continues to support Community Forklift, as we have, for over 15 years,” Francis wrote to The Washington Post. “We will continue to work with Community Forklift throughout their transition.”

Asked at the warehouse, Williams was appalled but not surprised at the possibility of moving Community Forklift.

“I’m used to going to a good place,” he says. “That’s life here.”

Smith said she was concerned Templeton staff and families would struggle to reach Community Forklift if they wandered farther. Sometimes she chooses furniture for families, who can walk to the warehouse to pick it up.

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

Meyer’s team faces a historically tough market for warehouse space as they plan their move. The vacancy rate for industrial real estate in the DC metro area, including northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, is 3.5% as of June 2022, according to to research by commercial real estate services company JLL. Rent has increased to about $11.43 per square foot, about $2 more than before the pandemic.

Ben, Senior Research Analyst at JLL Caffey said historic spike in warehouse demand and rent was partly driven by e-commerce giants like Amazon, which purchased more warehouse space to meet increased demand for online shopping and faster deliveries before and during the pandemic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

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

The trend is not limited to DC Last week, Community Forklift recovered materials from a similar salvage nonprofit in Philadelphia, Philly Reclaim, which closed after being depleted by city warehouses. Competition with “corporate behemoths” frustrates Meyer, who said other companies don’t provide the same support for individuals that Community Forklift does.

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

David Iannucci, President and CEO of Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview that Prince George’s remains the least expensive and most competitive jurisdiction for industrial warehousing space in the region. (Average rent for warehouses in areas of Prince George is lower than Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, according to Report by JLL.) The PGCEDC is working with Community Forklift to identify potential relocation sites, he said.

“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.