It may be time to part with your empire of spare parts

February 19, 2005|By ROB KASPER

IT IS A joyful time in a cellar dweller's life when he paws through his basement stash and finds the part he needs.

Tapping your private stock, your own little in-house hardware store, reinforces the feeling that you actually know what you are doing.

Moreover it justifies, at least briefly, the two premises that fire the urge to turn your residence into a parts repository. Those would be: 1) keep the old, you never know when it will come in handy and 2) when forced to buy new, buy two of the item. That way you have a chance of finding one when you need it.

Recently I had a giddy basement moment when I found a roll of plumber's tape rolling around in a box of faucets. The sight of the white package of Teflon tape sent the subliminal message that this repair job was going to end up with me walking the walk - the proud plumbers' swagger.

The tape was left over from previous plumbing adventures. I thought I had two rolls of the stuff, but was delighted to locate one of them. One drawback of building a parts empire in your basement is that managing it can be a burden. The other day for instance, my joyful reunion with the roll of plumber's tape was followed by an anguished session searching for some faucet springs and seals that I was absolutely, positively certain were hiding within reach.

Rifling through the boxes of parts brought back memories. An old brass faucet reminded me of the winter night that a pipe froze, the faucet popped loose and a lake suddenly lapped at our back door. Other than this plumbing pentimento, however, my search yielded few results.

That meant I had to lose the plumber's swagger, and slink like a tardy schoolboy to the neighborhood hardware store to buy, yet again, these basic, beginner's parts.

After the faucet was fixed, I decided to seek professional help with my basement management issues. I consulted Mark Foster, head of Second Chance Inc., a nonprofit outfit that sells house parts salvaged from Baltimore-area vintage homes and businesses. Recycling old material in newer homes is very chic, I am told.

Last Saturday afternoon my wife and I wandered through the Second Chance warehouses, south of M&T Bank Stadium. The architecture reminded me of the era when Camden Yards was an area of the city where men built things in factories, rather than playing games in stadiums.

Finding the place, at 1645 Warner St. just east of Russell Street, was a little tricky. But once I figured out it was around the corner from the newly relocated Greyhound Bus terminal, I knew what to do. I followed the signs posted on Russell Street for the bus station, then proceeded on a looping route toward Warner.

Second Chance is paradise for parts hoarders. I have one, maybe two old radiators stored in my basement. This place has a room full of them. There are also acres of old doors, mantels, light fixtures, locks, school lockers, as well as boxes of smaller items like old doorknobs, wall plates and drawer pulls.

Foster told me that he regards the enterprise as one big municipal basement. Many of the items on display, he said, come from Baltimore basements that had "been cleansed."

He confessed that until his wife intervened, he too had been hoarding old stuff in the basement of the couple's Roland Park home. Then about three years ago, right about the time Second Chance sprang to life, his wife sprang into action and arranged for a "basement clear-out," he said.

At first letting go was painful, but overall it was cathartic, he said. It was comforting knowing that the old parts were getting a new use.

Now he and the Second Chance staff regularly negotiate with families who want to donate the basement collections left by departed relatives. On the other side of the equation, he said, from time to time customers come in to Second Chance looking for old parts that they can't find in modern hardware stores.

My talk with Foster was helpful. The concept of getting old parts out of my basement into a happier, more productive venue is appealing. Someday I might be willing to part with my surplus radiators or that extra door. But my immediate goal is finding that bag of springs and seals. I know it is in the basement somewhere.

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