Cash Bargain’s Wally Binney, flanked by co-owner sister, Betsy Calcara and daughter, Erin.
Building Affordable Dreams in Kansas City
By Clare Adrian
Kansas City, Kan.—The American dream comes in all shapes and sizes with reveries of home ownership held high on the list of aspirations. For immigrants that settle in the Kansas City area, the dream is more frequently an affordable reality than if they had to purchase all new materials to build a starter home. For over 75 years, Cash Bargain Builders Surplus has been supplying discounted building materials to immigrants, landlords, the retrofitters and rehabbers, section eight housing renters, anyone at the lower end of the economic spectrum wanting to save what they can while getting the supplies they need.
With some variability, depending on what is available, the inner city-based company is consistently well-stocked with anything and everything to rehab, repair or remodel a home or property, according to Wally Binney, who co-owns the business with his sister, Betsy Calcara. An assortment of surplus off-grade lumber,
Manager Beverly Boldez, has worked at the company for 21 years, and Barry Findley has been in the door department for 30 years.
damaged doors, used windows, off-grade sidings and plywood, mis-tinted paint, oriented standboard, 7/16 waferboard, Yellow Pine, plywoods and siding are forklifted into a 60,000 square foot warehouse for customers to peruse. “We’re at the mercy of what’s out there,” said Binney, who is on the phone with brokers continuously. “We get it in and advertise.”
An affiliation with Do-It-Best Hardware fills in the gaps with a consistent full line of hardware, plumbing and electrical.
Dimensional lumber is the most cost effective framing material anyway, so there’s no need to compromise the compressive strength of the skeletal structure. Binney purchases 270,000 board feet per year of No. 2 & Better, untreated dimensional wood, usually Canadian SPF from reputable distributors, such as Bluelinx out of their Denver office and Cedar Creek in Tulsa.
“Somebody’s got to be here,” said Binney, who, along with his sister, Betsy, has expanded the business to four locations in a circumference around the greater Kansas City area, all in depressed neighborhoods, one in northeast Kansas City, Independence, Raytown and Kansas City, Kansas, built up over the past 15 years. The company motto is “g
Binney purchases 270,000 board feet per year of No. 2 or better, untreated dimensional wood.
ood stuff cheap,” in 75 years of meeting needs of the underserved economic level communities. The customer demographic is largely Hispanics, African-Americans and Vietnamese. When Binney’s grandfather Walter Harriman started the business, it was mostly Polish and Italian.
Harriman needed a bit of turf to stack the lumber he and brother Whitney were accumulating by tearing down buildings in Kansas City. It was 1932, during the depths of the Depression when he bid on the original plot that occupies a city block facing Truman Road in the northeast section of the city. “The seller wanted $2,000, but grandfather offered the most, a grand total of $600. He had saved the money up and was fond of saying he earned it back,” said Binney. The pair tore down the buildings on the property and sold the salvaged materials from it and all the buildings they were tearing down as used lumber. At the same time that the Depression was ending, they were earning a living from what had become a full-fledged lumber yard. Over the years, the area has become the depressed inner city.
The current brother-sister team bought the business when their dad, Frank Binney retired, in 1993. To follow in their father’s footsteps was not either Wally or Betsy’s intent. As a bass guitar player in the 70s for the band Prisoner, Wally was on the road to fame and fortune when fate intercepted. A deal with Columbia records fell through when the band’s drummer, who had played with the Beach Boys, fell off a boat and drowned. Back in Kansas City, Binney resumed working for the family business, which he had started doing at the age of twelve. His fingers are still callused from strumming th
The back warehouse stores economy grade studs, available in 1x4—8-foot No. 3.
e bass, now years later, with his current band, Five Wrinkly Dogs. Betsy taught English at the Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville before deciding to come back to the family business, three years after Wally had returned.
Business fluctuates, depending on the fortunes of the neighborhood, said Binney. “Hispanics are good customers. They pay cash, have lots of family influence, and as long as we’re not impacted with other factors, like when gas prices went up, we do well with the combination of product, people and pricing,” he acknowledged. “It’s a ‘pick up and go store’ with good customer service. Our employees know what they’re doing. They’re there to wait on people and help them out.”
Some of those employees, numbering thirty between the four stores, have been with good-natured Binney and Calcara for many years. Manager Beverly Boldez, has worked at the company for 20 years, and Barry Findley in the door department, 30 years.
Despite the security challenges of the low income locations, Binney foresees opening more surplus sites, progressing outward from the city. But the area would have to meet the economic level criteria. High income sectors would not be suitable, he said.
Growing up during the Depression shaped Harriman’s business practices and lifestyle, as well as influencing Binney. His grandfather retired at age 89, at which time he was drawing a salary of $24,000. He had kept his money in the business. Binney inherited Harriman’s frugal habits and as a result, he and his sister have never had to borrow money.
His modern day kids, however, don’t seem to have picked up the basic business principle of taking in more than you spend, shrugged Binney. Son Cody did listen to his dad, however, to pursue a more practical side of his chosen direction in the
A treated dimension lumber store is situated outside in the lumberyard compound.
music field and is studying recording engineering. Daughter Erin, is at her dad’s side, learning the family business.
Cash Bargain prices are about as good as it gets. Yet Binney still hears ol’timers yammering that they can ’t see how people can afford to build a house these days, just as they did when he was twelve, working for his dad. “Things were $1.00. Roll roofing used to come with a bag of nails and a can of tar. I can remember father and I agonized when sheetrock was $2.99 and we had to raise it to $3.01 and what that would do, and now its $9.29 a sheet,” reminisced Binney.
Channeling off-grade materials into housing construction not only fulfills a need for affordability. It’s also good stewardship of natural resources.