Sharon Fischman, owner of Empty the Nest, a clean-out service for the Twin-Cities area, went to school at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, for a communications degree. Yet, she found her calling was serving the community and putting her skills of organizing to use. Fischman talks about her store’s upcycling program and shares plans for its future in this week’s Who The Folk?!.
Are you from the Twin Cities?
Yes, I was raised here but not born. I was born in Phoenix. Most people say they retire there but no, I was born there.
How did you get into Empty the Nest?
Well, I majored in communications at the University of Minnesota and I was in television for a little while but that does not relate to anything I am doing now. I realized I wanted to do something that was giving back to others so I started working by helping seniors move. I did that for eight years and I saw there was no solution for once they were out of the house and removing everything that was there. There are nonprofits that can take this and that but there was no one solution. When my parents passed, it hit me on a personal level that I had to deal with my personal home so I thought, okay, I’ve got to fix this. I created Empty the Nest.
What made you interested in helping people move?
So, I got really sick and almost died. I had brain surgery. And as I was getting better so many people came alongside me. They didn’t know if I would ever walk or talk again so many people came alongside me as I was getting better. Especially, it was the Jewish community because my kids went to the Jewish day school. After that it just changed me and I had to do something to give back because I was so given to. What do I like to do? I like to organize. I like to help people. I just came upon helping seniors move.
How did the Jewish community help you during that time?
They coordinated meals, they picked up my kids and got them places. They even slept over at my house. I mean, it was anything I needed.
What’s your role at Empty the Nest? What are your responsibilities?
Well, running a company with 26 employees and making sure we do a stellar job and we empty homes. I have a store where we set things up and each week we have fifteen houses coming into the store so I have stagers who are getting things off the truck, making the store look amazing and pricing it. So I make sure everything is running smoothly.
What are some challenges that you encounter in the job?
Running the company. For me, I always did this because my heart wanted to give back. So the actual work of packing up the house or setting up the store, that’s the fun part. The challenge for me is managing the payrolls and the 26 employees, making sure they’re all on the same page, moral is good and communication is clear. That’s the hard part.
What’s a typical timeframe when you’re helping clients?
Typically for a house that someone has lived in for 30 to 40 years, it’s a two-day process for us. So the first day the team would go in, sort through the house and box things up. They’re figuring out what can get donated, what’s coming back to the store that we can sell, what is trash or what we can recycle. The goal is to throw as little of that away as possible. The second day we load the truck up and get it out. We empty the house completely.
That’s a short process.
Well each house before we start, we meet with the family to see the house so we have the right amount of people when we come. You know, if it’s a big job we might have 10 people working on it so that we can get it done in an amount of time that doesn’t take forever.
Where do the items go?
Well, it depends. Some get recycled. Some go to trash. Some go to nonprofits, so we partner with Bridging, and Salvation Army. Clothing goes to Salvation Army, Bridging gets mattresses, and pots and pans. And the homeowner gets the donation receipt of those. Items we can sell in our store come back here. And that helps to reduce the cost of our service to the homeowner. The store is also approved by Greater Twin Cities United Way so people get referred to come shop here because we price things so that people who are starting out can afford a couch for $30. At the same time, it helps to reduce the cost of our service to the homeowner.
Where did the name for the store come from?
Well birds have always been a thing for me. They send me signs. So when I was trying to decide is this something I should do, should I really? I was in a parking lot at the time and like 10 birds landed on the hood of my car as I was praying to say is this something I should do. And I was like “ohmygosh that’s shocking,” and it just came, that name. It was a God thing. I’ve trademarked it so I owned the name and the logo on day one.
Do you think helping the environment while also serving the community is particularly a Jewish issue?
Yeah, we’re all on this earth. Absolutely it is a Jewish issue. I grew up very reform and I make the joke because my husband grew up conservative very much on the Orthodox side so I kid “I converted when I married my husband even though I was born Jewish.”
Some of what you promote is called upcycling; what is this?
I say we are high-tech vintage. Throughout the store, we have T.V. screens flowing with ideas from Pinterest with ideas you can do to make something into something else. So as people are shopping, they’re like “Oh I can buy that tennis racket and make it into a mirror!” Because they see the idea on the screen.
You mentioned you grew up reform. So were you active in the Jewish community growing up?
I went to synagogue and got confirmed but I did not get bat mitzvahed. I got bat mitzvahed when I was 30 when I married my husband.
Do you wish you had been more involved?
I grew up feeling on the outside of Judaism looking in because my parents were just not as involved as others. So I used to get beat up at the bus stop and be called a Jesus killer and whatever. So when I had children, I wanted to provide for them a different experience with their Judaism. So when I got pregnant, I was bat mitzvahed because I wanted to have my children live in a Jewish home.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Let’s just say the sixth night of Hanukah because the menorah is so full of light. No. I don’t know, what else. I think I’d have to say I really like Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. It’s the start of a new year and we start to reflect on how we can do better coming into Yom Kippur. I love the food and being with my family. It’s a happy time.
Favorite Jewish food?
I love potato latkes. I love potato latkes but I’m known for my matzo ball soup because I make the best matzo balls ever. They’re the fluffy ones. I do the egg whites separate and I fold it into the matzo meal and the yoke and they just melt in your mouth. I get sick of it because I eat it all the time.