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This 'art supply thrift store' is a first-rate idea built on second-hand supplies
Springfield's new Arrow Creative Reuse, one of more than 100 reusable resource centers in the U.S., is a safe space for imaginative thinkers.
If you’ve been to Austin Creative Reuse, you know how special second-hand craft stores can be.
There are more than 100 of these so-called “reusable resource centers” across the country. Austin’s opened in 2009, and in 2020, it moved to an 11,000 square-foot space at 2005 Wheless Lane, where you’ll find aisles and aisles of gently used (and expertly sorted) art and crafting supplies.
We’re talking paint, construction paper, stamps and fabric and cast-off decks of cards, toys, trinkets, jewelry, photos, glue, maps, cabinet pulls, and old Christmas ornaments.
Austin Creative Reuse even has a dedicated room for what other people might classify as junk that is sold by the pound for people to make whatever their imaginations can possibly dream up.
I was so happy when, about a year ago, one of my childhood friends from Missouri signed a lease for Springfield’s new creative reuse center, Arrow Creative Reuse.
Karlei Baker-Dietz, who goes by Re, and I grew up going on float trips with our parents, who were outdoors lovers and bluegrass fans who knew each other through their days as students at Missouri State University.
I remember her mom being that funky art teacher who would make anything out of anything.
“My mom used to take me to the Etcetera Center, which was this free closet where teachers could pick up supplies for their classes,” Re told me during a tour of her shop this summer. “It was a treasure trove of stuff. She would pick up bottle caps and plastic lids to make art with.”
Re was always an artsy kid, but I didn’t know that she had dreams of opening what is essentially an art community center until I visited Missouri this summer and made a point to stop by Arrow Creative Reuse.
“This dream started when I was a kid,” said Baker-Dietz, who was a museum studies major and ceramics minor at MSU. “I wanted to have a studio and that rolled into wanting to have a shop to be able to supply artists and teachers with supplies that were affordable.”
She grew up watching her mom, Sandi, a folklorist, quilter and collage artist who taught for 35 years, struggle to stretch the school’s art budget. (Her dad, a jack of many trades, hosted bands in their home and the most memorable Super Bowl parties that were less about the football game and more about the chili contest. My dad’s annual entry was the Broyles’ Butt Burner Chili that was always the spiciest of the bunch. I can’t say he ever won.)
During the pandemic, she started looking for spaces where she could make this studio-store dream come true and found a little spot on what was once the historic Route 66 that began in downtown Springfield in the 1920s.
A year ago, she signed the lease at 1506 St. Louis St., and in December, she opened Arrow Creative Reuse, an “art supply thrift store” complete with a little “Route 66 tourist trap” gift shop, where she sells kitschy memorabilia, postcards, souvenirs and quirky donations that come in with the art supplies.
The former office space has about half a dozen rooms filled with neatly organized art supplies, books, tools and even some art, like handmade dolls or these unique lampshades made out of old slides that her dad loves to make and sell in the store.
Baker-Dietz says she intentionally prices all of the supplies at just less than half of what they would sell for in a traditional art store. (Several of Springfield’s notable art stores, including the 50-year-old National Art Shop, have closed in recent years.)
She’s already received a grant from the Springfield Arts Council to help pay artists and teachers who host workshops and classes, which used to take place in the store and are now held in the nearby Arrow Art Annex that opened in June and doubles as a listening room for all kinds of Americana and bluegrass bands from around the region.
(More on the beauty of Ozarkian listening rooms next week.)
For now, Baker-Dietz is the only paid employee, but she has a team of volunteers who help her sort and organize donations, including a person who spends their volunteer time cutting up magazines into ephemera collage packs.
A number of those volunteers are former art teachers, but Baker-Dietz said many are people from the area who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Over the summer, she hosted her first queer pop-up market called the Rainbow Connection, where artists and vendors can connect with each other and sell their goods.
“It’s getting better and worse at the same time [for queer people in Southwest Missouri],” Baker-Dietz said. “We are definitely a safe space. People will come in and sort for a few hours, and it takes their minds off what’s going on in the outside world.”
Building community has always been one of the main goals of Arrow Creative Reuse, but Baker-Dietz said another is to divert scraps and still-useful materials from the landfill. That’s why all donations are weighed before being sorted. At some point, she plans to reach out to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to try to get a grant to support her trash-reduction effort.
It’s lot to juggle for a first-time entrepreneur and burgeoning community leader who grew up as the youngest in a family of four. (Her brother lives in Japan, and her parents are frequent volunteers in the store.)
But Baker-Dietz said she’s quite happy to learn as she goes, even with the ups and downs.
“It’s hard to get things just right, but if you got things perfect the first time, it wouldn’t be life.”
In the community spirit of Arrow Creative Reuse, I’m making this post free for anyone to read this week. I wish I lived closer to Re’s store, and I hope this story inspired you to find a way to support the local scrappy entrepreneurs, wherever you live.
And if you like this post, share it with someone you think would enjoy The Feminist Kitchen, whose second print zine is in the works for mailing this fall. In a few months, I’ll send a copy to the paid subscribers who make it possible for me to publish new stories on this site each week about what I call the invisible thread: the things that connect us that we cannot see.
No matter how you subscribe, I’m so grateful for your support!
I’ve got a trip coming up this weekend to Washington D.C. to visit my 95-year-old great uncle Jack, followed by a genealogical research adventure to.…Fort Wayne, Indiana, home of the second-largest genealogy library in the county. I’ll explain more soon!
More next week.