More than 30 plastic bulk bins line the south wall, filled with a colorful array of bows, lace, scrap wood, buttons, dice, playing cards, stampers, pens and pencils, plastic discs, and more.
Walk a bit farther, and shelving units heave with other crafting notions and containers: flowers, scrapbooks, yarn, some games, fabric, and more. Stickers hang from pegs on the wall, and more stock awaits sorting and stocking.
That’s just the tip of the reuse iceberg for Ann Lenth, who last weekend opened Make It Yours Upcycle Center at 106 N. Main St. in Maquoketa, formerly M*Coconutz. She sells craft and hobby items by the piece (such as scrapbooks or fabric), by the bag (there will be various sizes), and by the pound.
The store’s ultimate goal, Lenth said, is to divert as many items as possible from the landfill.
Lenth, a paper crafter, encourages people to creatively reuse what they can and only buy the amount they need. That’s the impetus behind her nonprofit upcycle store.
“Recycling and upcycling are two very different things,” she explained, wearing a green T-shirt emblazoned with “Reuse Repurpose Upcycle” on the front. “We are not recycling. That takes items and breaks them down into what they were before and it loses value. Upcycling adds value. You buy something as is and give it a new purpose, a new use, like painting an old dresser.
“Here it’s about buying only what you need instead of having to buy in bulk,” she noted. “Why buy a bag of 100 googly eyes when you only need six?”
Her upcycle business began as an idea she saw in a different state. She researched the concept and couldn’t find a comparable non-profit business model in Iowa.
She and her husband opened Make It Yours Upcycle Center in 2015 in a small custom shed mere feet from their home in Welton and built a customer base.
That shed held only a few people at a time, so when the coronavirus pandemic reached Iowa, Lenth felt obligated to close the store. Social distancing wouldn’t even allow her to have one customer inside with an employee, she explained.
She thought that was the end of the business, but Wendy McCartt of the Maquoketa Area Chamber of Commerce, to which Lenth already belonged, convinced her that Maquoketa had the need, the desire, the clientele, and the necessary space to reopen her store, Lenth said.
“I saw (106. N. Main) and it was love at first sight,” Lenth said. That was in June. By July 5, the creative upcycle store was moving in.
“Things got crazy in a short amount of time,” recalled volunteer Beth Loose. Make It Yours Upcycle Center operates solely through volunteer work and inventory donation.
Lenth accepts donations of standard arts-and-crafts supplies. Donated items must be clean and odor- and stain-free. They should be sorted, meaning keep all the like items together such as yarn or fabric. Lenth prefers that people make an appointment to drop off donations, then deliver them to the bright yellow door at the back of the building.
Lenth dedicated a corner of the store to new art items such as cardstock and similar items.
She plans to eventually have upcycled crafts on display in the store to spark creativity.
“Like old light bulbs. There are so many fun things to do with them,” Lenth said. “Don’t throw them in the trash. And bottle tops, all different colors and shapes, you can use to make murals and things.”
Area businesses also are encouraged to bring in items. She’s received donations of old keys, plastic discs cut from molds, scrap wood and sundry other items.
The new store will follow social-distancing guidelines and masks will be required inside.
As the store becomes more profitable, Lenth envisions donating funds to the community and helping teachers and others with items they need for their classrooms.
Beginning Aug. 12, store hours are Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.