One Woman Recycling Operation
by Mary Hooper
Sarah Thompson is practically a one-woman recycling operation.
And she's turned it into a business.
One of the newest enterprises in Greensburg is Revival – Repurposed and Refurbished Designs, in the SunChips Business Incubator building at the corner of Main Street and Rte. 54.
Thompson, a Liberal native who now lives in Coldwater, is one of those rare people who see beauty and possibility in everyday, even disposable, things.
Take bottle caps, for instance.
We may faithfully save plastic bottles for our local recycling effort. But most recycling depots don't take the lids from pop and water bottles, milk jugs, and the like. So we toss the lids into the trash.
After all, what else are we supposed to do with them?
Thompson thought the same thing. But she came up with an answer.
"I thought I might make something out of these lids that we just throw away even if we recycle the bottle," said Thompson.
The result is a colorful collage of bottle caps and lids. It wowed a group of kids from a 4-H Club recently.
"They really loved the lid art. I told them I used to be in 4-H too, and talked to their leader. Maybe they'll do some lid art and enter it in the fair next year," she said.
From bottle caps to bicycle wheels to canning jar rings to pickup truck tailgates, it seems that Thompson can find a way to reuse almost anything.
Thompson's background is in communications and working for non-profit organizations, but she always had an artistic streak that found an outlet in sewing, quilting and scrapbooking.
One day, when she was in Colorado Springs, she strolled into a shop where she spotted wind chimes made from discarded kitchen implements, such as flour sifters and flatware. It being Colorado Springs, the recycled chimes sold for $140.
"I thought, I can do that, and a lot cheaper."
In the meantime, her job at a nonprofit, where she was director of development, was being shrunk to part time. She decided a career change was in order, and that she should pursue a growing interest in making beautiful things out of castoffs. Originally, Thompson wanted to open a shop in Liberal but was having a hard time finding the right space. It was then that she and her sister traveled to Greensburg to tour the Silo Eco-Home, a project of Greensburg GreenTown which is planning a series of houses to showcase environmentally friendly building designs and materials.
The tour guide that day was Ruth Ann Wedel, staff member at GreenTown.
"We are always looking for young people to move to Greensburg and start businesses," said Wedel. "When I pointed out several things in the Silo Home that had been repurposed, she got excited about that."
When Thompson said she'd like to start a business selling repurposed items, Wedel knew she had found a candidate for the business incubator and ultimately put her in touch with the city's economic development department.
"It looked as though her business would be a good fit for Greensburg, and that she would be happy here as well," Wedel said.
Revival opened in August and has been drawing a steady stream of visitors, intrigued by Thompson's creations, and, more important, customers.
"I love to take old discards, things I find even in landfills, and make something interesting and fun. It's so enjoyable. It isn't like work," she says.
Among the eye-catching objects in Thompson's shop are two bookcases made from public telephone stands, a table with a base of stacked old-fashioned suitcases, and settees with backs made of rusted and dented pickup tailgates.
Thompson no sooner set her suitcase table out than a customer walked in and bought it. Her tailgate benches are so popular they're on back-order. Her big problem is that she can't find enough tailgates. Kids love the crayon toys made from crayon stubs melted down and poured into molds, thus producing multi-colored wax lips, feet, shoes, flip-flops and the like.
She takes trophy figurines of bowlers and tennis players makes them into bottle stoppers. She painted a nondescript table lime green and applied chalkboard paint on the top to make a suddenly attractive homework table. She makes tables out of wooden wine boxes perched atop ornate treadle sewing machine bases.
She turns defunct loaf and cake pans into lights by drilling holes to form homey words and phrases so the light shines through.
"One of my best sellers is my 'beer' pan light. It's popular for man caves," she said.
Of each pan light sold, $5 will be given to the Friends of Education Charitable Trust in Greensburg for local scholarships.
And yes, she does make wind chimes out of flatware, metal washers, bottle openers, sifters and beads, but hers sell for $30 to $65.
Thompson's shop has been doing so well that she has to scurry to maintain the inventory. Fortunately, she has a large cheering section of family and friends, many of whom help out with projects or keep her supplied with the raw materials for her creations.
Her dad helps her build the tailgate benches and helped build her checkout counter, which is a repurposed buffet turned backwards. Her mom helps her stay organized, she says. An aunt makes drawstring bags from old sheets.
"This is a green store so we don't have plastic bags. The drawstring bags are for purchases."
Friends send her stuff, such as wine corks for her corkboards, which are rows of wine corks glued together. She recently was contacted by a couple who offered her their upright piano because they couldn't afford the $3,000 it would cost to repair it. Thompson plans to turn it into a bar -- an actual piano bar, you might say.
A friend, who works for a telephone company, alerted her to the public telephone stands that are being uprooted from street corners everywhere these days, thanks to the well-nigh universal cellphone.
"As soon as I saw them, I knew they'd make great bookcases," Thompson says.
Her office is, of course, a hodge-podge of … all sorts of stuff. An auditorium seat is her chair for visitors. A large cardboard box contains hundreds of canning jar rings which she intends to turn into Christmas wreaths.
She hopes to be able soon to display chandeliers she makes from old bicycle wheel rims, silver chains, crystals and Mason jars.
"The whole concept is to get people to think of how wasteful we are, and how some things that we throw away actually have uses and can be made into attractive and decorative objects."
Thompson will look almost anywhere for materials – auctions, flea markets, garage sales, junkyards. People call her. Recently she got a call from a man who offered her four large tractor tires. She's still thinking that one over.
In the meantime, as her shop thrives, projects await on weekends.
"I have so many projects piled up, so many waiting to get done," she says.
Revival is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and can be reached at 620-723-1124 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The shop has a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/revivaldesigns.