Shopping garage sales, Ann Lenth would see a lot of small items such as pencils, used crayons and opened packs of paper that she figured were headed for the landfill if they didn't sell.
At the same time, Lenth, who lives in the Clinton County town of Welton, was keenly aware that she had to drive to Davenport, Dubuque or Cedar Rapids to find a full-line craft store.
She decided to address both concerns by establishing a nonprofit store called Make It Yours Upcycle Center that accepts donations of usable items and sells them at a huge discount, thereby diverting items from the landfill and encouraging people to, as she says, "rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle."
The store is located in a 12-foot by 32-foot building she had built this summer on property she and her husband own next to their house in Welton.
Potential customers include crafters/artists, teachers and parents/daycare providers. Targeted geographic areas include DeWitt, Maquoketa and Delmar.
Items generally will be sold by the pound with some individual sales. Someone who needs just two pipe cleaners won't have to buy a package of 100.
At present the store is open by appointment, but Lenth hopes to have regular hours in October.
She also is accepting donations, and has a four-page list of acceptable items. They include carpet samples, fabric scraps, coffee containers, bottle caps, wrapping paper, greeting cards and popsicle sticks.
"We are a new home for things that sit forever in your house," she said.
If the business takes hold, she hopes to expand with a classroom for arts and crafts classes, a community workshop and more retail space. Other items for sale could include donated furniture and a gallery where people could sell items that are made of at least 75 percent repurposed items.
"Our possibilities are really just limited by the community support that we receive," she said.
Lenth's mentor in this endeavor has been Angie Mapes, of LeClaire, who opened the Reusable Usables Creative Arts Center in 2010 next to her daycare business.
Lenth also has worked with Julie Plummer, the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges representative on the Iowa Waste Exchange, a group that helps match the waste stream of one company with raw materials needed by another.
Lenth's name may be familiar to some as the owner of Annie M's Collectibles gift shop that specialized in items related to "The Wizard of Oz" and even sponsored a Totofest. She closed the shop in 2006.