Panthers rummage sale is underway at Habitat ReStores

The Carolina Panthers have never shied from doing unusual things for charity – such as auctioning off turf for cancer research – but the team is breaking new ground with the Carolinas’ first NFL rummage sale.

More than 1,000 tables, chairs, stools, sofas and mini-fridges are up for sale as the franchise cleans out 158 luxury suites for renovations of Bank of America Stadium. Many of the items bear the team’s popular Panther logo.

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in the region scored the donation bonanza, with the proceeds going to pay for building Habitat houses for low-income homebuyers.

The ReStore on Wendover Road in east Charlotte briefly jumped the gun on a proposed Thursday morning unveiling, and began selling some of the tables, chairs and stools on Wednesday afternoon. The response bordered on “crazy,” said Phil Prince of Habitat Charlotte.

“People have been like locusts,” he said. “We had stuff tagged as sold, and other people were ripping off the tags and buying it. It’s pandemonium. … It’s like they’ve hit the lottery. They’re buying everything.”

The ReStores on Wendover Road and Wilkinson Boulevard will have more items to sell starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, but Prince warns it will be “first come, first served.”

Panthers fans may have better luck at ReStores in surrounding counties, where the furniture will be on sale in the next few days. Habitat officials recommend shoppers call in advance to see if items have been put out for sale.

“This is what the well-appointed man cave will be furnished with in 2015,” says Prince, predicting the 80 blue-and-black Panther-themed trash bins will be the first to go because “they’re just plain cool.”

“When people buy something, they love to have a story to go with it. In this case, if someone tells you they love your couch or trash can. ‘Well, guess what,’ you can say, ‘it’s from the luxury suites at Bank of America Stadium.’ Now, that’s a story to tell.”

It’s not the first time Charlotte’s ReStores have sold items with great stories attached. When the Showtime series “Homeland” was filming in Charlotte, set designers often bought furniture at the ReStores and donated the items back when scenes were done.

The stores then resold those same items with tags attached, letting buyers know they had been featured in the show, Prince said. “It attaches a little romance and imagination to the item.”

Charlotte’s ReStores sell recycled building materials (windows, counter tops, doors, cabinets), along with donated household goods and appliances. The proceeds are used to build about 15 houses a year, which are sold to low-income families using no-interest loans. (Home buyers also are required to do volunteer work.)

Riley Fields, director of community relations for the Panthers, estimates the donated furniture and appliances have a collective value of $75,000. Habitat officials say that’s enough money to build an entire home.

Fields says the team settled on Habitat for the donation because of its mission of housing low-income families, and because ReStores are spread across the Carolinas, like the team’s fan base.

As many as 10 ReStores from Statesville to Columbia could receive furniture.

“The ReStore program was identified as an agency that had both the need and the means to give the furnishings a good second life,” Fields said.

Luxury suite renovations are part of a $125 million plan to refurbish the entire stadium over five years. In 2013, the Charlotte City Council voted to give the Panthers $87.5 million toward capital improvements, as a way of keeping the team “tethered” to Charlotte for at least six years. (The money for the suite renovations is coming from the Panthers and is not being done at the expense of taxpayers, officials said.)

Giving away the 1,024 pieces of furniture is the latest in a string of unusual philanthropic gestures by the team.

In 2012, the Panthers auctioned off some of the largest sports memorabilia in NFL history, including a trio of 19-foot-by-34-foot vinyl Panther heads that were removed from the backs of the scoreboards. The $5,000 in proceeds went to the Panthers’ Keep Pounding Fund at Carolinas HealthCare Foundation, which supports cancer research at the Levine Cancer Institute and the Levine Children’s Hospital.

Stranger still, the team auctioned 16 sections of stadium turf (4-inch-by-4-inch) in 2004, linked to big moments in the Panthers’ 2003 rise to the Super Bowl. That raised $4,000 for the Keep Pounding Foundation.

“We used dirt to raise money for cancer research,” Fields said, laughing. “We sold it in softball display cases and fans paid $250 to $500 per piece.”

Given that kind of passion among fans, Habitat for Humanity is predicting lines will form Thursday for people seeking their own luxury suite trash can or mini-fridge.