The WasteShed: A new shopping destination for old stuff

Chicagoland is home to countless educators, DIYers, and creative people of all kinds, in addition to those concerned with responsible recycling.

Eleanor Ray, Managing Director of The Garbage Sheda business that recycles, recycles, and sells surplus and used creative materials and art supplies tapped into that creative energy when it opened the company’s first outpost in Humboldt Park in 2014. Last November, she opened the Evanston store at 1245 Hartrey Ave. Virtually everything sold in the store has been diverted from a landfill.

Various items are on display at The WasteShed. (Photo by Wendi Kromash, with labels added)

The front entrance is painted a vibrant rich purple, suggesting what the visitor will see when walking through the entrance, which is the open coffin filled with plastic balls. Nothing inspires creativity quite like a party box, a former TV show prop. The shop is located in a space adjacent to the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, a shop and non-profit organization with a similar mission, except its focus is on the reuse of used and surplus home materials and equipment.

The WasteShed is a wonderland of colour, a tactile hodgepodge and a mass of organized chaos that stimulates the imagination. Teachers are eligible for a 25% teacher discount (with school ID or email address) on anything in store. There is also a free area in the front area that is filled with free merchandise and is available for teachers, therapists, social workers, homeschoolers, and other educators who use art to communicate with their students and clients. Everything in the store is sold at 25% to 50% of the original price.

Think of The WasteShed as your first port of call when it comes to filling, charging and revitalizing ideas and projects. Stock up on school supplies? View the inventory of notebooks, three ring binders, highlighters, tape dispensers, adhesives and organizers. Considering wallpapering a powder room or looking for ideas to jazz up a blah blah decor? Take a look at The WasteShed’s inventory of wallpaper, rolled up nautical charts, vintage postcards and old photographs. Looking for a creative activity to keep a small group of kids busy or treats to fill two dozen party bags? Look no further. The WasteShed has resources you never knew you needed for people of all ages, interests and abilities.

Seamstresses, bead embroiderers, jewelry makers, knitters, fiber artists, stampers, scrapbookers, collage makers, painters, gift wrappers – everyone has a niche amidst the many shelves and closets. The items are sorted by type, color and size. Strolling around the store is the best way to take in the overwhelming selection and get ideas for future projects, find containers for odds and ends, and find that missing specialty tool you almost gave up. Ray says almost every week she comes across a donated item she’s never seen before and needs to do research before listing it for sale.

Eleanor Ray is Managing Director of The WasteShed. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

Ray moved to Chicago from Portland, Oregon in 2012. She graduated from Reed College with a major in Art History and began her career in the upcycling and repurposing business at SCRAP Creative Reuse in Portland. When she made the decision to move to Chicago, she had friends and family who lived here who were aware of the thriving global arts community. She had no intention of starting a business, but she couldn’t find the resource she envisioned. She wanted a place with creative resources where people with diverse interests could contribute to building the future through art and creative recycling.

Ray would not be dissuaded; she built it herself.

As Executive Director, Ray has many responsibilities and is involved in fundraising, strategy, long-term planning and day-to-day operations. Currently, both of The WasteShed’s locations are manned by nine employees and several high school students who volunteer for service hours. Labor is the biggest expense, but according to Ray, the business is 85% self-sustaining. The other 15% is funded by donations (The WasteShed is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) and grants from The Field Foundation, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

The WasteShed becomes well known for its annual fundraiser, the DiscardDisco (aka Trash Bash), which takes place every February. This year there were 27 participants, each of whom paid $25 in exchange for a box of repurposed materials from which to create a wearable, one-of-a-kind outfit. Each of the boxes shared some common elements, and the judges awarded prizes to first, second, and third place winners based on creativity, execution, technicality, and flair.

Contestants walked the runway with their creations at a live, ticketed event that included a raffle, silent auction and dancing. The event was also streamed live. Attendees come from all walks of life, including apparel and costume designers, fans of cosplay and drag, and DIYers with no sewing experience. The video and photos of the designs are available online.

The WasteShed accepts new donations by appointment only. Those interested in donating are asked to send an email with a list of items including photos as some categories are overcrowded and space is limited. Volunteers interested in helping to organize store credit donations are welcome; Visit the website for more information.

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