"Green" store opens despite sluggish economy

The founder of a new "green" home store says an eco-friendly economy is a key to moving out of the recession. So despite tough economic times, he's opened a store called "new living" to support green building, restoration and retro-fitting. Ed Mayberry reports.

New Living founder Jeff Kaplan set up shop inside the former home of Wagner Hardware in Rice Village.

"This store, Eugene Wagner built in 1949, and used a lot of recycled material when he built it.  They didn't call it 'green building' then.  They just, you know, that World War II generation did the responsible thing because it was the right thing to do.  For example, our floors are made out of recycled scrap metal that they used back then, and they're amazing floors.  We repolished them.  They look fantastic."

The first move was to research green products and vendors.  Lewis Kauffman was the former store manager for Wagner Hardware, and now is product specialist for New Living.  He says 30 to 40 per cent of their customers drop by for specific products.

"And then we probably have 20 to 30 per cent that are chemically sensitive.  Like a traditional polyureythane floor finish—highly toxic, off-gases for months.  We've got customers that, they have to move out for six months after they have a paint job.  And then the rest are, you know, builders that are trying to educate themselves."

Jessica Drummond stopped in because she's building a green house in Houston for her family.

"Just came by today just to kind of get an idea of what materials are available for, you know, the paint and the kitchen and the cabinets, that sort stuff."

Ed: "Starting from ground-up, then?"

"Yeah, we'll be knocking down the house we live in in October."

Ed: "Because a lot of people probably retrofit."

"Right, and even, you know, retrofit insulation.  We've done some of that.  The house we live in now is, was built in 1947, so it has very little insulation.  Planting of trees in certain places, replacing the windows, you know, just to cut down on the air conditioning bill."  

Jennifer Touchet, a partner in New Living, says they are doing everything they can to make prices equal to or lower than traditional materials.

"Everyday practical products to the average person who knows that there's a lot of toxic things around, wants to do something green or healthy in their home or in their community.  You don't have to go to some big-box store and sort through a million things that aren't green to find the one—yeah, they carry something green at those places.  We've done that sorting for people."   

Jeff Kaplan managed to raise money from investors to finance his business in spite of the slow economy.

"You know, we're a small business and I've put everything on the line to make this happen with some other partners that have also made humongous sacrifices.  There's probably not a more challenging moment to open a small business since the 30's.  And, and you know, we're doing something that's new and different.  And we feel great about it, I mean the city is really supporting us."

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...