Article written Aug 7, 2018 in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. We have included the text from the article, as published in the paper and also on the journalpatriot.com
Hardwood lumber being salvaged board by board from a 78-year-old warehouse on Second Street, North Wilkesboro, could have a second life in rustic homes built in California, Wyoming, Colorado or who knows where.
It’s a part of joint venture between local businessman Cam Finley, who owns the building, and North Wilkesboro-based Revient Reclaimed Wood, a nationwide supplier of reclaimed wood products.
Built by “Nike” Smithey
The 40,000-square-foot warehouse on Second Street was built in 1940 by Wilkes entrepreneur Nikeard “Nike” Smithey, whose chain of 17 Smithey’s department stores in northwestern North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia included locations in each of the Wilkesboros.
Jim Shepherd, managing partner at Revient, called the Smithey’s chain “the first Walmart model I’ve ever seen. He had stores all over the Carolinas and Virginia, sort of a farmer’s Walmart. They had seeds, general store items, clothes, snack bar and so on.”
After the great flood of 1940 washed away a warehouse that Smithey was using for his stores, he took “higher ground” by building the warehouse on Second Street Hill.
“He was notoriously frugal, and I was told all the cement blocks in it were made on-site,” said Shepherd. “All the wood was sawed locally from sawmills, and brought in there to build it. It’s had many lives, from Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees out of there, to a ‘worm farm,’ to a crafts barn making shelves and chests from white pine.” The “worm farm” produced fertilizer from the waste of earthworms fed liquid poultry byproducts.
When Revient was founded six years ago, Shepherd considered the old Smithey building for warehouse space, but decided “it just wasn’t ideal for us.”
Revient instead opened in the former Carolina Mirror building, which owner Scott Nafe bought in 2007 and refurbished for a second life as leased space for multiple businesses as the Mirror Factory. “Scott (Nafe’s) place had much broader columns so we could get forklifts and wider loads in,” said Shepherd. Revient’s warehouse and production plant are in the Mirror Factory.
Shepherd described the venture with Finley as “sort of a two-way deal. I had known Cam for a while, and really liked him—we clicked,” he said.
The old Smithey’s warehouse had part of its roof torn off by a tornado that touched down in Wilkes in October 2017. “As soon as I saw what was inside it, I knew it was a great building for us to salvage,” said Shepherd.
“There’s some really nice oak, really nice 2×8 joists in it, oak flooring from the upper mezzanine,” he said.
“I just wandered in one day, and it wasn’t going to make much sense for (Finley) to find another tenant for it, so his idea was to take the building down. The numbers looked good, so I offered to buy the material from him. He’s doing the takedown, and we’re selling the wood.”
The first of three stages is underway. “About a third of it is the section that was damaged—we’ll take that down first, store it in the other end of the warehouse that’s still good and standing. Then we’ll sell it and take down another third, and so on.
“Our agreement with Cam was to have it completed in three to four years. If you reclaim it, you’ve got to take your time. And we’ve got to find a market for it, too, to cover our takedown expenses. But we want to get the hazardous mess cleaned up as quickly as we can, no doubt by Christmas.”
Jacob Leatherman of Purlear, Revient retail sales manager, said the old warehouse contains over 1 million board feet of wood.
One of Revient’s best sellers is “naturally fumed” oak and “naturally fumed” pine salvaged from many abandoned chicken houses in Wilkes.
Naturally fumed refers to wood being hardened and darkened as a result of the ammonia in chicken or other animal waste reacting with natural tannins in the wood. White oak is a popular example because of its higher tannin content.
The company’s biggest project to date was taking down a dozen or so chicken houses at Chick Haven Farms on N.C. 268 East in North Wilkesboro. A total of about 25 old Chick Haven chicken houses will be taken down, said Shepherd. “We’re cleaning up the sites and getting rid of hazards that are there.”
Revient is working with Tam Hutchinson Jr. of North Wilkesboro, owner of Chick Haven Farms. “His dad started that business in the 40s…. He was a pioneer in the chicken and egg business,” said Shepherd.
Revient is a French term that means a return to the old ways. The company was co-founded by Allison Sims, originally from Wilmington, who manages the sales operations and lives in Bend, Ore.
Revient’s sister company is Carolina Heritage Cabinetry and Gallery 268, also housed in Nafe’s Mirror Factory.
Western U.S. market
The western United States has become a popular destination for Revient’s reclaimed products.
Revient’s Blue Ridge barn wood was installed as siding on a home in the Silicon Valley region near Sunnyvale, Ca.
The company’s hand-hewned timbers, reclaimed mixed oak and barn wood were in a European-influenced traditional kitchen in Jackson Hole, Wy. Revient also supplied the antique rusted tin roof for a covered bridge in Big Sky, Mont.
Locally, Revient’s maple from the old Thomas Alva Edison phonograph factory in New London, Wisc., was used on a four-sided central kiosk at Midtown Market & Garden in North Wilkesboro.
Revient’s specialty is rustic American style wood for custom residential projects, but it also does commercial jobs such as providing Edison maple floors for the Mast General Store in Winston-Salem.
The company’s main showroom, “The Barnwood Store by Revient,” is inside Wilkes Office Supplies in North Wilkesboro. It has a second showroom in Raleigh.
There is “a lot of other stuff in the Wilkesboros that needs to be salvaged. And I get three or four calls a week from people who are looking to get a barn taken down. We just talked to someone in Hays. We do some barns, and are always looking for good quality material,” said Shepherd.
“We’ve tried houses, and they’re really hard to reclaim. Houses just don’t work for us. There’s too much stuff in it, and the material is cut up into smaller pieces,” he added.