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The new thrift store: from old and dusty to green and creative

interior of robin's nest
Courtesy of Robin's Nest
Robin's Nest at Nicollet Avenue and Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis.
The Line

Robin Krueger and her grandfather Lloyd Tabery used to salvage items left behind by college students in the Fargo-Moorhead area. It had a profound impact on her, and this month she opened Robin's Nest at Nicollet Avenue and Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis, a joint venture with her boyfriend, Vito Mattioli. 

Robin’s Nest, like so many other thrift stores, features used items, including jewelry, art, furniture and original pieces, and custom orders. But while the old-paradigm thrift store was a somewhat seedy end-of-the-line for unwanted objects, what we might dub the "new thrift store" is a creative, optimistic, artistic place keyed in to creative reuse and sustainability.

Robin's Nest exemplifies the new model, tied in to “the push to recycle more and reusing materials,” Krueger says. Soon, she hopes to add special events in the space, such as open studio times.

At Robin’s Nest, everything from flat screen TVs to old doors can get a new life.

interior
Courtesy of Robin's Nest
At Robin’s Nest, everything from flat screen TVs to old doors can get a new life.

"The best thing here is the creativity," she says. For her, “What makes it fun is the idea of not doing the same thing over and over, working with the community, doing something new and mixing it up a little.” 

The same goes for Nick Soderstrom. 

The Bearded Mermaid Bazaar 

After Soderstrom sold a collector’s pair of Nike tennis shoes in an online auction for a sizable sum, something clicked in his brain. The former Marine went on to open an eBay consignment store, The Final Bid, which he ran out of a storefront space on St. Paul’s West End for a couple of years.

Through that experience, he found he liked selling certain types of things more than others. That’s when he said to himself, ‘I want to do my thing and not stray from my vision.’ 

bearded mermaid exterior
Courtesy of the Bearded Mermaid
As its name might suggest, the Bazaar is a one-of-a-kind spot that offers home décor and furniture from the '20s through the '70s, vintage men’s clothing, taxidermy, art and “oddities,” including a real 8.5-foot stuffed giraffe.

A year ago, Soderstrom did just that. He and his business partner, who goes by Craig C., opened The Bearded Mermaid Bazaar just blocks away in an old building that had been vacant for over a decade. As its name might suggest, the Bazaar is a one-of-a-kind spot that offers home décor and furniture from the '20s through the '70s, vintage men’s clothing, taxidermy, art and “oddities,” including a real 8.5-foot stuffed giraffe. Eye-catching window displays often lure random passersby while designers, photographers, scrappers, artists, and others are regulars in the shop, he says. 

Every Wednesday, he changes up the setup, which is the fun part for him.

“I love curating and designing and displaying things properly,” he says. 

Right now, one part of the shop is dressed with tiki woodcarvings, a movie theater chair, and a Civil War-era coffin. An oversized Louis Vuitton monogram on the wall and antique medical equipment fill another area of the store. Soderstrom, who has a taste for the dark or melancholy, does his best to “make it as interesting as humanly possible.”

“I refuse to conform to the look of any other store,” he says, adding, “That’s working in our favor.” 

The place has even landed a spot on the Travel Channel’s TV show “Baggage Battles.”   

To get the merchandise, he’s on the road five days every two weeks. During those trips, he turns to estate sales, Craigslist, dumpster diving, and community bulletin boards. It helps that “People always call us when it comes to weird stuff,” he says.

Maybe as a holdover from his eBay experience, the merchandise goes unpriced. “We love to negotiate,” he says. 

It’s more fun to thrift as opposed to buying from a big-box store, he says. “Junk will break in six months. Things from 60 years ago will last another 100 years.”

Covet 

Christy Frank, owner of Covet at 38th and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, agrees. 

Covet, a home consignment store, sells just about anything, but the more utilitarian, the better, she says. Covet started off as an occasional store at 33rd and Lake Street in South Minneapolis before settling into its current digs a couple of years ago. It offers a range of secondhand objects along with custom furniture and frames, or a mix of “new and a little bit old,” she says. 

The concept can be hard for people to wrap their minds around. “People ask, what kind of store is this?” she says. “My store doesn’t follow what you expect.”  

covet
Courtesy of Covet
Covet has everything from Art Deco to Pottery Barn items to coffee tables
made out of recycled shipping pallets.

Covet has everything from Art Deco to Pottery Barn items to coffee tables made out of recycled shipping pallets. It’s less about antiques than “good design, good shape,”  according to Frank. It focuses on “good affordable design, and at the core of it, reusing as much of it as possible,” she explains. 

One coffee table even included parts from a piano and a bed frame. “It’s an entirely sustainable piece of furniture,” she says. “It’s as green as it gets."

The popularity of items like that indicates larger trends. She’s noticed a trend on Pinterest, with people reusing industrial materials. She theorizes that when the recession hit, people sought out consignment more, as a way to save money or make a little extra cash. “Out of necessity, I think that as a culture we’re getting more green,” she says. “People are more in tune with recycling and reusing.” 

It can take longer to find the right piece this way, but “it’s a responsible way to shop. It’s affordable.” Instead of buying a living room out of a showroom, “It can add a little more interest to the home,” too, she says.

This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Anna Pratt is development editor of The Line.

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Comments (2)

Excellent quote

“Junk will break in six months. Things from 60 years ago will last another 100 years.”

Very true. Nassim Taleb makes essentially the same point when he says: "We may be trained to think that the new is about to overcome the old, but that’s just an optical illusion. Because the failure rate of the new is much, much higher than the failure rate of the old."

I like the analogy to books that Taleb makes; A book that has been in print for the past 100 years will likely be in print for another 100, whereas most of the new releases at the bookstore will have been forgotten by next year.

Second Hand

In addition to used furnishings, my girlfriend and I also buy used clothing, primarily from Goodwill. Jeans are $1.50 and a $70 pair of shoes are all of $6.00, plus I got some great sports coats for next to nothing.

When I related the story to a coworker I get the "ew!" factor from her along with a declaration that she ONLY buys new clothes that no one else has worn. I pointed out that the clothes I buy are washed and, by the way, do you really think no one has tried on the "new" clothes you pick up at Kohl's?