Chicagoland is home to countless educators, do-it-yourselfers and creative people of all types, in addition to those who care about responsible recycling.

Eleanor Ray, Executive Director of The WasteShed, a store that recycles, repurposes and sells overstock and used creative materials and art supplies, tapped into that creative energy when she established the first outpost of the business in Humboldt Park in 2014. Last November she opened the Evanston store at 1245 Hartrey Ave. Practically everything sold in the store has been diverted from a landfill.

A variety of items are displayed at The WasteShed. (Photo by Wendi Kromash, with labels added)

The front entrance is painted a vivid rich purple hinting at what the visitor sees when they walk through the entrance, namely the open casket filled with plastic balls. Nothing spurs creativity like a party casket, a former prop from a television show. The store resides in a space attached to Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, a store and nonprofit organization with a similar mandate, except its focus is on repurposing used and surplus housing materials and appliances.

The WasteShed is a wonderland of color, a tactile smorgasbord and a mass of organized chaos sure to energize the imagination. Teachers are eligible to take advantage of a 25% teachers discount (with school ID or email) for anything in the store. There is also a free section toward the front filled with no-cost goods available to 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% off the original cost.

Think of The WasteShed as a first stop when it comes time to resupply, recharge and revitalize ideas and projects. Restocking school supplies? Check out their inventory of notebooks, three-ring binders, highlighters, tape dispensers, glue and organizers. Considering wallpapering a powder room or seeking ideas for sprucing up a blah decor? Check out The WasteShed’s inventory of wallpaper, rolled up nautical maps, vintage postcards and old-timey photographs. Looking for a creative activity to keep a small crowd of kids engaged or goodies 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 skill levels.

Sewers, beaders, jewelry makers, knitters, fiber artists, stampers, scrapbookers, collage-makers, painters, gift wrappers – each one has a niche amid the many shelves and cubbyholes. Items are arranged by type, color and size. Walking around the store is the best way to take in the overwhelming array and get ideas for future projects, find containers for odds and ends, and snag that missing specialty tool you had almost given up of finding. Ray says nearly every week she comes across a donated item that she has never seen before and needs to research before putting it up for sale.

Eleanor Ray is Executive 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 got her start in the upcycling and repurposing business at Portland’s SCRAP Creative Reuse. When she made the decision to relocate to Chicago, she had friends and family who lived here and was aware of its thriving global arts community. She didn’t intend to start a business, but she could not 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 was not dissuaded; she built it herself.

As Executive Director, Ray wears many hats and is involved with fundraising, strategy, long-term planning, and day to day operations. Currently both locations of The WasteShed are staffed with nine employees and several high school students volunteering for service hours. Labor is the largest expense, yet the business is 85% self-supporting, according to Ray. The other 15% is funded through donations (The WasteShed is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) and grants from The Field Foundation, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

The WasteShed is becoming known for its annual fundraising event, the DiscardDisco (aka Trash Bash) held every February. This year there were 27 entrants, each of whom paid $25 in exchange for a box of repurposed materials with which they had to construct a wearable, one-of-a-kind outfit. There were a couple of common elements included in each of the boxes and judges awarded prizes to first, second and third place winners based on creativity, execution, technical details and flair.

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

The WasteShed is accepting new donations by appointment only. Those interested in donating are asked to send an email with a list of items including photos since some categories are overstocked and space is at a premium. Volunteers interested in helping to organize donations in exchange for store credit are welcome; check the website for more details.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thank you for brightening my day with your energetic choice of words and compelling storytelling! You make our community richer. Can’t wait to check out and support The WasteShed.