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Second Chance, Inc.

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Walking into Baltimore’s Second Chance is like entering an attic, a treasure trove, an estate sale, an art museum, a toy store, and a sanctuary. The massive store houses an assortment of unique salvaged and discarded objects including: functional historic pianos, a table that can seat thirty, a fully intact and usable bar plucked from a shut-down pub, a room of hundreds of lamps, another of desks, and much more. In short, it has whatever you’re looking for and something you never thought you’d find.

As the largest reuse store in the US and a 501c3 non-profit, Second Chance’s mission extends beyond its salvaged objects. It also creates jobs for people who experience barriers to employment. Many of the employees—those who stock shelves, assist with holds, unload items into the store or onto your truck—have either served time in prison or are in some other way at risk of being vulnerable to unemployment.

 

There are all these possible paths that you could take, things you could learn or skills you could develop… parties you could host or rooms you could decorate, a million different possibilities. It’s just fascinating, considering the past lives of the objects themselves and your potential together—your future, the object’s future.
Lindsay Foster

Mark Foster, CEO and Founder of Second Chance, explains the origin of the store. “My wife and I started renovating a house back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we were looking for [historic] parts and pieces.” After realizing there was no place they could easily find what they needed, they decided to create the solution themselves. Roughly ten years later, Foster and his wife Mary Blake launched Second Chance.

They considered following the traditional for-profit “buy low, sell high” model, but they believed that the objects they were saving could contribute to a more meaningful business model for the community. With a non-profit model, they could utilize that emphasis as a motivation for people to participate and feel good about the business.

Sitting at his desk, which, Foster tells me later, is from the set of The Wire, he continues, “We started with a focus on architectural salvage and preserving the history of the community. There was a sense of selling it, recovering it, but also getting people to reincorporate it so that it would live on instead of perishing in a landfill.”

Mark Foster

Foster’s biggest goal for the store is helping people. In determining who might be the program participants, Second Chance tries to define who is most in need. That has largely been individuals who have come through the prison system. Many were young when they did whatever it was that got them in trouble and have missed a lot of their lives.

Second Chance offers an opportunity for reformation and a new start. Foster explains that for some, Second Chance is their first job ever. But Foster’s business model does not pamper employees. Instead, it offers opportunities to work hard and succeed in whatever way they dream up. He explains, “We supply certain things, but it’s really up to the person to do something with their own life. We can’t drag you, and we won’t because there are too many people out there who will do it without being dragged. So, we want to find people who are motivated to get their second chance and take advantage of it.”

In the spirit of the store and the promise of second chances, I asked members of the Second Chance team to share a bit about their current favorite objects in the store. 

 

Tyree Crawford, Sales Associate
Favorite Object — Bel-Loc Diner sign

Crawford served forty-five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon his release at sixty, he faced both relief and grief as he embarked on a whole new life. “When I came home, it was an uphill struggle because the family I knew had died,” he says. Crawford started working at Second Chance when he received a call from Foster. Two of his friends had worked there after release from prison and had vouched for him, which is why Foster knew who he was when he walked in the door.

Crawford says the Bel-Loc Diner sign is his favorite object. The beloved restaurant closed its doors in March 2017 after fifty-three years in business, and the sign now on display is not for sale. “It’s the most iconic sign in here,” Tyree says. And while there are other notable signs, including the Broadway sign from Fells Point Harbor and the original Montgomery Mall light-up sign, the Bel-Loc is the newest. Perched above a row of baby blue refrigerators at the back of the store, the Bel-Loc’s striking typography and nostalgic message are a humbling reminder of a moment lost to time.

 

Lindsey Foster, Attorney
Favorite object — Chrysler sailboat

An attorney who works alongside the CEO, Lindsay Foster has a striking way with words. She explains why she chose a vintage Chrysler boat as her favorite object and how she values the idea of potential. “I’ve never sailed in my life, but maybe I could learn to sail one day,” she says, running a hand along the boat’s edge. “There are all these possible paths that you could take, things you could learn or skills you could develop… parties you could host or rooms you could decorate, a million different possibilities. It’s just fascinating, considering the past lives of the objects themselves and your potential together—your future, the object’s future.”

 

Mark Foster, President & CEO of Second Chance, Inc.
Favorite object — relief sculpture he helped extract from the old Mercy Hospital Building

Second Chance was still in its early years when Mercy Hospital underwent a major expansion. Foster saw an opportunity, though he didn’t yet have any employees beyond volunteers and people he knew with experience in salvage work. In the middle of the night, with no foot traffic on the street, Foster and a cobbled-together crew got to work carefully dismantling the entrance portal. On a swaying lift fifty feet above ground yielding a handheld jackhammer to remove the bust, Mark tediously chipped all the brick from its outside to free the individual pieces out of the facade without the whole thing falling down.

“Although terra cotta is able to withstand the elements for centuries, it is very fragile—so removal must be surgical,” says Foster. “My affection lies in the fact that I survived and am forever linked to the experience… and to such a cool piece of history.” Since the Mercy Hospital project, Foster has not attempted any salvage job quite like it.

Standing back and admiring the sculpture, he says, “I expect to be buried with her some day and am just glad I wasn’t buried BY her.”

 

Robio Reid, Pricing Manager
Favorite objects — repurposed frames in The York Room

As pricing manager, Reid touches most everything you see in the store. Every lamp, refrigerator, rocking horse, standing keyboard, 1920s ottoman, church pulpit—everything in every possible direction, she has priced. Lindsey Foster admits there are a few specific jobs at Second Chance that would give her “a nervous breakdown” and cites Reid’s as one. “I have a mini one every day,” replies Reid, walking us over to her favorite section, a thicket of frames that look like gilded sticks. She slides one out to show me, propping it up side by side with her. It’s about ten feet tall.

Inside the York Room, this mosaic of frame pieces takes up most of the wall. From robin’s egg blue, to all gold, to striped, checkered, and flowered, they make an infinitely more interesting and creative decor than a white wall or wallpaper. It shows ingenuity, creativity, and the value of repurposing objects. Reid is clearly proud of the wall and the idea of a new future for these wooden gems/ornaments.

 

Curt Raleigh, Retail Associate 
Favorite area — lumber department 

Raleigh selected the lumber department as his favorite because of the endless possibilities the wood offers for creating new structures. “I got the idea for using horizontal scraps of wood as a material for the wall from Second Chance,” he says. “I thought of doing the same on my walls.”

As we walk through the stacks of wood, his expression softens and then sharpens with inspiration, at home in this lumber sanctuary. Raleigh has progressed from a delivery worker to a delivery associate. He is a great example of Foster’s mission coming to full fruition. Before we leave, Raleigh confidently hands me a sleek red and black business card with rounded edges, printed with “Raleigh Boy’z: For all your deliveries: Moving, Hauling & Trash Removals,” a business he founded. On the back, a quote by H. Jackson Brown Jr., his late father: “Earn your success based on services to others, not on the expense of others.” 

 

Katherine Snyder, Visual Merchandising 
Favorite objects — found keepsakes 

Synder’s favorite part of the store are the things people leave behind: notes tucked in old books, art projects forgotten and abandoned in portfolio folders, postcards tossed out as trash, discarded family photo albums. She is most intrigued by what people fail to appreciate, like family heirlooms and treasured objects, which is why she makes it a point to preserve them. “I love nostalgic things. They transport you back to a time long gone.” Even a single photograph found in a piece of furniture can tell a story and evoke emotion. Snyder is passionate about preserving these forgotten treasures and dreams of documenting them on a map to honor their history. 

When setting up a room display, she envisions who might use the space and carefully selects pieces that would realistically be found in someone’s home. Unlike the typical modern furniture sets from popular retailers, Snyder believes in the charm of a unique blend of old and new pieces, like a new sofa paired with a vintage chair passed down through generations. 

 

Frank White, Retail Director 
Favorite object — vintage go-kart 

“My favorite part of the job,” White says, “is being available for these employees who need guidance and inspiration.” As he puts it, “I try to make them look into the windshield versus the rearview mirror because most of our folks here want to live in the past.” He mentors people who were incarcerated for long periods of time, often ten, twenty, or more years. 

Toward the center of the store, the large apple-red and tan go-kart is one of the oldest objects for sale and White’s favorite. He explained that he and his many siblings used to make their own go-karts when they were kids, assembled from disparate pieces to play on the street. This particular vehicle appears to be from the 1930s or 40s, a memory brought back to life. 

 

Luis Ponce, Donation Pickup Manager 
Favorite area — The York Room 

Ponce is one of Second Chance’s longest-tenured employees, having worked at the store since its inception twenty-seven years ago. Through all of the organization’s iterations and changes in location, he has remained a constant presence. Ponce visited the Esperanza Center, a Baltimore organization that welcomes immigrants, in search of a second job at an entry level. He now coordinates and performs donation pickups and in many ways, he is the face of Second Chance: warm, friendly, and recognizable to donors who meet him at their homes. 

When asked what he likes most about working at Second Chance, he responded without hesitation, working with Foster. “I always tell him—when he goes, I go. But as long as he is here, I will keep working.” His favorite area is the York room where the store stages all of its highest-value and most extravagant items.

 

This story is from Issue 16: Collaboration, available here.

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