Apr 2, 2011

It never hurts to ask

Do you ever have one of those fortuitous experiences where, while it's happening, you're just giddily thinking, "Wait, is this for real?" 

I had one of those experiences on Thursday. And it involved a dumpster.

I still feel kind of silly telling this story, but I know there are lots of other frugal bargain-hunters out there who will totally get this, so I feel like this is a safe space. :)

Anyways, it all began Thursday morning at work. My office is on the third floor of a building that has restaurant space on the first floor. We've seen that restaurant space turn over three times in that many years, and the new tenants were starting to demo the space. They had a dumpster set up in the parking lot and we could see them tossing things in -- drywall and lumber, mostly. Then I saw a big bookcase go in. "Aw, man," I said to my coworkers. "I hate seeing people throw all this stuff away every time they open a new restaurant. I'd totally take that bookcase!" 

My coworkers said I should go down and ask them if they had any other furniture they were planning to trash and ask if I could have it. No way, I thought. They'd look at me like I had two heads.

At lunch time, I took a little walk, and on my way back I decided to just do it. What's the worst that could happen? They'd tell me to get lost, and I'd feel embarrassed for like half an hour. I could handle that. So, I swallowed my pride and walked into the restaurant/construction zone.

"Hi, I work upstairs, and I see you're throwing some stuff away, and I was wondering if you had any other furniture or anything usable that maybe you don't want?" I said as sweetly as I could to the two guys tearing the place apart.

"No," one of them said quickly, and I felt a little disappointed. Then he said, "Well, we have that bookcase, did you see that?"

Yes, I admitted, and I did like it. But it was in the dumpster already, and was it dirty? Nope, not dirty -- it's right on top. Yes, but you don't have to climb into the dumpster to get it.

Before I could even get that last sentence out, the other gentleman had already pulled it out for me and set it on the ground. I gave it a once-over, trying not to see too excited about something they had deemed trash. "You want it?" the first guy, Tom, asked. 

Excuse the phone photo
It was a solid bookcase of real oak, so much better than the particle board one we have in our office now. "Umm, yes," I said, glancing at my tiny car and wondering how I would get it home.

"How about a wine rack?" he asked me. Um, yes please! As I've mentioned before, the hubs and I make our own beer and wine, and we've been planning on building a wine rack in the basement to store what we make, but of course that's not high on our priority list. Plus, have you ever seen how much wine racks cost? One batch of wine equals almost 30 bottles, and we've made two batches so far, with a third planned. Even buying the lumber to build a wine rack that would hold more than 50 bottles would be pricey. 

And this wine rack was huge -- nearly seven feet tall (my phone photo came out too crappy to share). Before Tom could change his mind about giving it to me for free, I enthusiastically nodded. Yes, I wanted it. Already my head was reeling -- how was I going to get this stuff home?

We carted the wine rack outside into the parking lot, and on our way passed a small beer sign with a chalkboard. The hubs has a few beer signs, and I knew he'd like another to one day decorate his brewery/man cave (when we finish the basement). Since I was on a roll and already proven I had no shame, I casually asked, "How about that sign?"

"Oh, that's for my kids," Tom said. "But there's another one, want to see it?"

Do you really need to ask? So he brought me back inside and showed it to me. And my heart. Stopped. 

This was a six-foot-long mirrored Shipyard Brewery sign, from a Maine-based brewery. Last year for this birthday, I took the hubs on a brewery tour there. These signs are hard to buy -- breweries give them to restaurants as promotional items, but whenever we've tried to buy one at a local fundraiser, the price has always climbed to $100 or more, and that was for a sign half this size. And here it was, ginormous, for free.

I giddily called my husband and left a message: "I just found you a giant Shipyard sign for free and a bookcase and a big wine rack but they are like six feet long and won't fit in my car and can you come down here and pick them up okay please call me." 

He called me back, wanting photos and measurements. He was hooked.

Tom was nice enough to let me have these things, but since he was in the middle of renovating the restaurant, he needed them out of the space ASAP to keep working. He was willing to leave them outside, but a nor'easter was headed our way the next day (more on that later). And they were too big to fit up the tiny stairs to my office. Which meant the hubs had to find something to cart these things away in, and drive the 30+ minutes from his office to mine to pick them up that afternoon.

Tom turned out to be the owner of the new restaurant, a Mexican place with an extensive tequila selection (I like the sound of that! I couldn't believe how nice he was, with me interrupting his work and making his business partner climb in the dumpster. He offered me other things too -- leftover beer glasses from the old pizza place -- and when I came back to pick up the bookcase, wine rack and sign, he'd piled up a couple other things he thought I might like. I was totally impressed by him and his non-judgment. 

I told him we had just bought a new house and looking to furnish it for cheap, and told him about our beer and wine-making adventures. He said he was happy to help "a good cause." Apparently helping a young cheap couple with no shame willing to take other people's trash with frugal tendencies is a good cause. Ha.

So, a few hours later, the hubs showed up with his SUV and his friend's tow-behind trailer, and we loaded our goodies in. I was dancing around the parking lot, thanking the gods for my good fortune, the generosity of these strangers and my husband's willingness to make the trek (I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have bothered if not for the giant beer sign).

For now, all our frugal finds have a new home in the basement until they get a little TLC.

The bookcase ended up being from one of our favorite places -- The Mill Stores. That's where we bought our dining room table, and where we probably would have bought a bookcase for the office.

I couldn't find the exact one on their website, but similar ones the same size sell for $120-$160. And ours was free! It needs a new back, since they cut a hole through it to fit it around an outlet or another fixture, but it will be easy to replace that. And it was finished quickly, so we'll likely refinish it. We're thinking of painting it black, to match the desk we want to get for the office.

I'm so psyched to have a new bookcase for our office redo, without spending $150 bucks!

Here's the wine rack. It needs a good cleaning, and it's a little wobbly, so it'll need to be secured to the wall. It also only has enough cross pieces for two of the four compartments (it looks like they stood up bottles in the other two boxes, judging by the dust circles.) But it will be easy enough to make more cross pieces if we want them. Our wine cellar is off to a good start! And it was free! This 120-bottle rack from Wine Enthusiast is $139. Holy savings.

And of course -- the sign. I'm sure my husband will be bragging to his buddies about it. And I love that it's a local brewery.

What else did we end up with? Another wine rack, this one about four feet tall. This one would be nice to keep in the dining room, I think, once it gets a fresh coat of paint. Wouldn't it be cute in white or a bright, fun color like teal?

And the awesome Tom also gave me this bucket. I have no idea what it was used for -- it has holes drilled in the bottom. But it's super cute and I know I can find a way to use it. Maybe as a planter? A big centerpiece? It too needs a good cleaning.

So, that's my crazy tale of free finds. And to think I almost didn't bother! I'm glad I did. We will definitely be patronizing Tom's restaurant when it opens. That's what I love about Maine -- people here are so nice! And just about everyone understands the desire to reuse, repurpose and rescue items with some life left in them.

These scores on Thursday made it a little easier to handle Mother Nature's April Fool's -- nearly a foot of snow (!!). I hope it melts super fast, because I'd really like some spring now, thanks.

Do you have any zany stories about rescuing some unwanted items? I'd love to hear them!

I'm linking up to Frugaliciou$ Friday at Finding Fabulous!


Brianna Tufts said...


How cool to find wine racks, bookcases and a beautiful shipyard brewery sign! I enjoyed hearing your story and it's good you took the risk and asked! My family and I tend to frequent yard sales in the summer because it is so easy to find amazing furniture and household items. A few years ago my mom and dad found a beautiful wooden bureau and all it needed was a fresh staining and two new drawer knobs to have it looking like brand new! I'm sure you and Will will be able to incorporate your new items into your house well - you're both so crafty and capable at the home-making!

Erin @ Domestic Adventure said...

What luck! Mainers are nice, I feel. I think it's great that you went and asked; it never hurts to be frugal! I hope your snow is melting...it's sunny here, but not a whole lot of melting going on!

writeruthie said...

Mindy, when I lived in NYC I quickly learned of -- and adopted -- the concept of "dumpster diving." In the city it's as simple as learning when the nice neighborhoods put their "trash" out onto the sidewalk at night. I furnished much of my grad school apartment that way. No shame in saving furniture from the trash AND saving money.

Mindy @ said...

@Brianna -- I'm looking forward to some flea markets this summer! With a little imagination and elbow grease, you can pretty much restore anything. I'm inspired by your craftiness -- the pillows you made me remind me of you whenever I see them!

@Erin -- Our snow is finally starting to melt, but not fast enough for me.

@Ruthie -- I totally love this concept!