I’m all for recycling and donating but sometimes I find myself saying, “I’m afraid we’re just going to have to put that in the trash, the thrift stores won’t take it.” So I was super excited (as the kids say) to visit Art Parts, a local donation resource whose motto is, “We take what the other places won’t.”
“Every thrift store takes books, but we only take art and craft books,” Executive Director Denise Perreault told me as we toured the store recently. “Thrift stores will take dishes but they won’t take chipped dishes because it’s a safety hazard. We only take chipped dishes. In fact, we love it if you bring them to us already broken because then we sell it by the pound. It’s easier for us to sell it broken.”
Denise pointed out a basket full of vintage glass insulators. “A guy told us he had these sitting behind his shed for over 15 years. He had collected them after a Texas tornado, walked the street and collected them,” she said. “Antique stores will only take the perfect ones, thrift stores won’t take them, the resource/deconstruction yard won’t take them, but we will take these imperfect ones because people find clever uses for them, as paperweights, as elements in a mosaic, in a sculpture or a shrine, to hold bracelets, all kinds of clever things.”
A clean, well-lit place
The store is light, clean and fresh-smelling. And Denise told me she makes a point to keep it that way. All donations are cleaned before they go on the floor. “People who bring us donations care that it goes to an appreciative home, so that’s why we clean it and we make it look brand new,” she said. “Even if it’s sat in a garage for 10 years, doesn’t mean it has to look that way.
“Not too long ago we got a huge antique photo album, the kind with the velvet cover and the brass filigreed corners, it was filled with gorgeous antique photos, the real thing,” she told me. “But it reeked of tobacco. So we all did a test. We took all the pictures out, some of us put them in bags with baking soda, some of us put them in a bag in the freezer, some for three days, some for three weeks, and what worked best was in a bag with a box of baking soda and it completely removed the tobacco smell and then we were able to sell them. We’re adamant about making stuff look brand new – not every thrift store, not every reuse center does that.”
Denise researches the value of donations and then prices everything in the store 30 – 90% off retail. That makes the treasures in her store affordable for the local artists and CU Boulder and Naropa University students who frequent Art Parts.
Who uses the store?
They’re film students, art majors and art therapy students. “They’re always coming in and collecting a wide variety of disparate things, everything from small plastic army men to giant rolls of paper because you never know what your therapy client will respond to,” she said. “So that’s fascinating, to see what they choose and what speaks to them. And in Boulder a lot of people eschew plastic so the Journey school teachers, the Montessori and the Waldorf school teachers, they want natural materials only. Our clientele is teachers, students, artists, families, homeschooling families, people of limited means, creatives, DIYers, builder guys, inventors.”
I was excited to hear that if you just want a couple of items from a bag, she’ll open up the bag and sell you just what you need. “As an artist, I don’t buy anything I don’t have an immediate use for,” said Denise, who is a textile weaver and bead artist.
“Buying it because it’s a screaming deal you can’t pass up? No. That’s not legitimate, that’s just over-consumption. Here you can open any box or bag. You want two beads out of 20, you can buy just two beads.
“Recently a lady with a favorite broken straw hat came in and she just need a few pieces of raffia and she was thrilled to pay ten cents to fix her favorite hat. I thought she was going to burst into tears. You can’t do that at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. But here we let people do that and they really appreciate that.
“It’s hard to pass up stuff that’s a screaming deal but the bottom line is we will always be here now so you can come back and get some more if you find you’re going to use it or need it.”
I asked Denise what was the most unusual item that had been donated.
“There’s a lot to choose from, I mean we specialize in the unusual, so it’s hard to answer. A jar of sand. Now who would think a jar of sand, who would save a jar of sand, who would buy a jar of sand? It sells.
“We have learned not to judge what others might consider useful because the builders and the inventors especially, not only can they tell me what that thing is that we were unable to identify but they will find a use for it.”
“There are amazingly creative people out there who love the challenge of reusing unusual stuff. We routinely ask our clients to send us a before and after picture of what they buy and then what they did with it all and they post it to our Facebook page and then we blast it all over Facebook. It provides inspiration to others. I love the challenge of finding a clever use, a creative use for what other people considered a discard. To see the beauty in the mundane is extremely satisfying. To answer your question, I think it was the jar of dead bugs, we actually got a jar of dead bugs. We cleaned the jar because it was antique, sold it for $2.39 and composted the bugs.”
So what does Art Parts take?
Art Parts maintains a very detailed list of things they’re looking for. From circuit boards to corks to buttons and frame corners and old keys, Art Parts has a use for it. And of course, not everything has to be new. This is a great home for craft paints and art materials you’ve used but no longer need.
“We take clean and still viable used paintbrushes. Craft paint containers have to be at least half full, and it has to be viable, it’s got to still move. Don’t care about the date, if it’s still viable and it’s half full we will take it. No oozing, no stuck covers, it’s got to be useful for somebody else. We routinely get things like painters’ palettes still covered with paint. We scrub those things clean,” Denise told me as we explored the store which is neatly organized, with each item clearly labeled and priced on accessible displays.
Because of the small size of the store, Denise asks that you call first (720) 379-5328 if you have any questions about what Art Parts will accept. “The difficulty is that we’re too small right now – I’ve had to turn down a lot of industry surplus because they have large quantities and our 2,300 square foot space just can’t accommodate it,” Denise said.
“Every week we add a shelf on top of a shelf to try to make more space. We knew we’d outgrow the space but we didn’t know it would be this fast. We didn’t realize that the support and enthusiasm would be this overwhelming. I knew it would fly and be popular but I didn’t think it was going to be this popular this quickly.
“We’re open 35 hours a week, but I’m here 60-70 hours. I do much of it, my fabulous volunteers, maybe 10 people who help and our 6-member board. Our volunteers are artists often, passionate recyclers and reusers, interested in arts and crafts and inventing, DIY. In many cases they are makers themselves, creatives we call them now, or they are passionate recyclers. They are into sustainability and environmentalism.”
Art Parts has been working with the city since 2013 to be next to the resource yard at Boulder County’s growing recycling row. “There’s two and a half acres leftover for the final phase of construction and we are in the top four for getting that space.” Denise told me. ” I have dreamed for five years now of a 22,000 square foot facility. I’ll take whatever the city might offer up so we can be part of Boulder’s waste diversion hub because being part of recycle row is the best thing for the community. It will expand our zero waste success because if we make it a one stop convenient drop for residents, we’ll collect a lot more stuff. It just makes sense that a creative reuse center should be part of that mix there.”
Visit the Bricolage Gallery
Clearly Art Parts is a tremendous labor of love for Denise. In addition to a store full of art goodies for sale, she also curates the instore Bricolage art gallery, a space for artists to share what they do with donated material and for shoppers to get inspired about what they can do with the raw materials on sale in the store. “I want you to look at all this mundane stuff and see it with fresh eyes. I want you to see it as the raw material it is,” Denise told me.
It’s all about getting clutter to a better home
“Stuff is not just a physical burden, it’s a spiritual burden. It’s why I take hardly anything home – I deal with so much stuff here; I don’t want it in my house. You’re the steward of the stuff and it can really weigh your spirit down,” she said. By giving people a unique place to take their more esoteric discards, Art Parts is helping keeping material out of the landfill and getting it to a place where it’ll be used.
Joyful Surroundings just got a new donation destination for all our clients’ art treasures.
Art Parts: If you go
2870 Bluff Street in Boulder
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 am – 5:30 pm
Donations are accepted Fridays and Saturdays during business hours. Please be sure to call first if you have any questions about whether or not your donations will be accepted.