Old Stuff Through a New Light

Reconsidered Goods in Greensboro is a maker’s paradise

By Robin Sutton Anders    Photographs by Sam Froelich

My 5-year-old made a big mistake when he passed on this errand.

Wandering the rows of Reconsidered Goods, a whale of a shop in a warehouse on Greensboro’s Patterson Avenue next to Red Collection, I pass a shelf of old science beakers complete with those cool glass stirring rods; then a collection of art supplies (buckets of meticulously organized markers, colored pencils, paints, baskets of construction paper, envelopes and legal pads); a shelf of vintage cameras and camera equipment; a corner of small, assorted mechanical equipment parts. Scanning the room, my eyes land on a wall of colorful fabric bolts and, in the distance, what looks like silver utensils and China patterns.

I’d heard good things about the “creative reuse center,” one of 42 across the country, but until now, I didn’t really get it.

What is this, Christmas morning?!

I do a double take at the 50-cent price tag on the next display: a box full of precut archival mat board, ready for framing. I begin to dream of all the hobbies I’ve wanted to pursue, being brought to fruition by the crammed aisles of this wonderland.

I can’t write about this place — what if these crazy finds are gone when I come back?

My fellow shopper has the same reaction when I ask her about the treasures she’s unearthed here. Jennifer Scott, Oak Ridge resident and owner of the Eclectic Calico shop in Madison, makes frequent trips to Reconsidered Goods. “I’m almost afraid for the word to get out!” she says.

But Scott is happy to spread the news. “They have piles and piles of scrap leather that I’ve made jewelry out of,” she says. “I’m always on the lookout for display pieces for my store — I found old, 1920s bird cages and a mid-century iron table base that my husband made into a beautiful table by adding a custom wooden top.

Someone had even donated old playground equipment,” she remembers. “We were able to build a fabulous playground around it.”

“It’s probably easier to tell you what we don’t take,” says Paige Cox, one of the center’s three cofounders, when asked about the donations accepted by Reconsidered Goods. “I draw a hard line at stuffed animals. This place could fill up with those.”

Since her mission is to keep as much out of the landfill as possible, Cox has a mantra: “Keep it cheap and keep it moving.” Large furniture is a no because it takes up too much space. So is clothing — “unless it’s vintage,” Cox adds. And she passes on electronics (that includes VHS tapes). And no bedding or towels.

Other than that, Reconsidered Goods is thrilled to accept your donation. In return, you’ll get a tax write-off and a decluttered house. Every item donated to the creative reuse center is touched about five times before it makes it to the shop’s shelves — which explains the store’s ordered aesthetic. “The biggest compliment we get is how organized it is in here,” Cox says, explaining their process. “We have some wonderful volunteers who help us take donations, sort them, price them, place them and merchandise them.”

Part of her job has an education slant. “Some of our items come in brand-new. We’re trying to create a mindset for people that reuse doesn’t mean ‘used.’ It could be an antique; it could be brand-new. We want to present items in a way that people feel like they’re shopping in a regular retail store.”

Cox got the idea for Reconsidered Goods a few years ago when she and her sister visited Durham’s Scrap Exchange. Located in the Bull City’s Lakewood Shopping Center, the Scrap Exchange has been a Durham mainstay, “promoting creativity, environmental awareness and community through reuse” since it opened shop 26 years ago.   

Inspired by the union of creativity and environmental awareness, Cox wanted to get involved — full time. “I was working in a corporate environment and needed a change, and the joining of these two passions was such an instant attraction for me,” she says. “It was clearly my path in my very unplanned career plan.”

Cox asked the Durham folks if they’d consider a franchise. They weren’t interested, but they offered to teach Cox all the tricks of the trade they’d picked up over the years. “They have it down to a science. They gave me a binder, and I did exactly what they told me,” she says.

Cox knew she’d be tapping into some of their clients by opening a similar store in Greensboro, but the Scrap Exchange directors didn’t care — in fact, they told Cox that “‘we all have too much stuff.’ Every city could have one, and we could all live happily ever after.”

While Cox and her two co-founders, Martha Hughes-James and Joseph Edwards, were diligent about following the Scrap Exchange process, Greensboro’s Reconsidered Goods has a much different look and feel than the Scrap Exchange. Greensboro’s store reflects the Triad’s textile influence. “One of our most favorite items is Italian leather,” Cox says. “We get full hides from Tiger Leather. It’s a tax write-off for them, and shoppers come in to buy the leather to make journals or jewelry or to reupholster furniture.”

There are also denim samples from VF, and mat board from High Point’s Graphic Dimensions. “High Point is just now finding out about us,” Cox notes. “We’re getting tons of calls about fabric and are starting to get great things in yardage.”

For many of Greensboro’s artists, Reconsidered Goods feels like a community center. “We have tons of crafters and fixer-uppers who are looking for a place to hang out,” Cox says.

Every Wednesday and Sunday, drop-in classes give newbies and old-timers a sample of the reuse possibilities. “Make It” classes have included instructions for leather feather necklaces, journals, crocheted coffee cup koozies and clay coasters.

According to Cox, these classes bring a big turnout. “For a lot of our regulars, it’s their go-to place to unwind or meet up with friends, and they craft together,” she observes. “It’s a great thing that has naturally happened, and that I think is so beautiful.”

Scott, who regularly strikes gold when she visits Reconsidered Goods, heads up her church’s ladies ministries. She planned a craft night that was a huge success. “We made leather cuff bracelets and did some shopping — in fact, it was hard to pull them away from shopping to do the craft,” she says. “There were 26 of us, and it was a great place to go and we all had a ball.”

The center also serves as a popular destination for school field trips where, following a one-hour arts-and-crafts session in the store’s “Make and Take” creative area, students brainstorm with an employee about the importance of reuse.

“The average American throws away 4.34 pounds of garbage a day,” Cox says. She uses the statistic to challenge students to a family experiment. “If everyone took a week and looked at the waste they created in that time period, they could ask themselves how they could make less of an impact.”

The idea, she says, is to encourage people to challenge the “throw-away- when-you’re-done-with-it” living habits. “Every little change in each household in the community adds up to lots of diverted waste in our landfills,” she says. “Teaching kids to think this way while they are young sets the tone for our future and creates good habits.”

Robin Sutton Anders is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Greensboro, and co-author of the recently published book, Becoming Durham: Grit, Belief, and a City Transformed

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