The stuff they sell at Scrap isn’t junk.
It’s raw materials. And potential. And possibilities. And all the other things that junk sometimes gets called when it isn’t being called junk.
“We are a universe of the random and the good,” said operations director Liliana Peliks, who runs the giant warehouse full of randomness and goodness on Toland Street in San Francisco and who does not believe that the art supplies, old soccer trophies, discarded photographic slides, fabric scraps, glass tiles, road maps, blank greeting cards and zillions of other items on temporary reprieve from the landfill ought to be dissed.
She stood beside a trophy that once belong to the Most Improved of 1984. The trophy didn’t say the most improved what, but Peliks said that 50 cents sounded like the right amount to charge for it.
“We are a world,” she said, “where everything is possible. We are a resource.”
The nonprofit warehouse full of reusable art supplies, is located at 801 Toland St. in San Francisco. It’s open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donations of “quality” materials are accepted Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For information: www.scrap-sf.org or call 415-647-1746.
Scrap has been selling knickknacks and bric-a-brac for four decades, largely to the starving artists and equally starving schoolteachers of San Francisco. Its dimly lit aisles are full of bargain hunters who don’t know exactly what they’re hunting for until they see it. It operates out of the back of the San Francisco Unified School District’s supply warehouse.
Shannon Gibson, who turns the castoff items she buys for pennies at Scrap into decorations on purses she sells on street corners in the Haight for $40 apiece, said the warehouse “triggers your imagination and settles you down at the same time.” She bought an elaborate used bracelet for half a buck and said it would be the centerpiece of her next purse.
Kristina Serkin, a quilter from San Francisco, was filling up a paper bag with fabric scraps. Under the rules, a bagful costs $10. Serkin said a similar haul of silks and designer cloths would set her back $200 at a quilting store.
Niamh Hanranhan, a jewelry maker, was looking for treasures, too.
“I like to reuse things,” she said. “And I know a good deal when I see it.”
Aside from the fabrics, at $10 a bag, and the old buttons, at $1 per scoop, most prices are something of a guess. The person at the cash register decides how much something costs, on a whim. If you’re nice and look broke, the price might go down. If you try to haggle as if Scrap were the Istanbul bazaar, it doesn’t.
As a test, a reporter brought a handful of leather scraps to the counter and asked Scrap employees, one by one, how much they cost. Peliks said 50 cents. One clerk said $1.50. Another clerk said $2.
The founder of Scrap, Anne Marie Theilen, took time out from sorting several hundred used colored pencils to study the leather scraps, and the reporter, with a fine eye.
“Four dollars,” she said. “I’m from France. We know the value of leather in France. We don’t have a lot of cows in France.”
She was probably kidding about the cows, Scrap being a whimsical place, but she was not kidding about the $4.
Theilen said she founded Scrap because Americans throw away too much perfectly good stuff.
“This country does not appreciate reusing old things,” she said. “This country appreciates buying new things.”
Never come to Scrap, its creator said, expecting to find what you are looking for. Expect to find something else.
“Do not bring a list!” she barked. “No lists! Bring an open mind.”
There are large sections full of stuff that doesn’t cost anything at all. Among the things that don’t cost anything are National Geographic magazines. There are thousands of old National Geographic magazines, take your pick.
About three times a week, someone comes by with boxes of old National Geographic magazines to donate. All National Geographic magazines not at grandma’s house seem to be at Scrap. They fill several cases on the far wall. For eons, art teachers have instructed students to cut out photos from National Geographic magazines. They have to come from someplace.
Other donations come from businesses oversupplied with supplies, from folks clearing out their late relatives’ dwellings, from various hoarders and do-gooders around town, and from all the Scrap customers who bought stuff at Scrap in the past, never used it and are returning it to the mothership.
It was then that Serkin brought her $200 worth of fabric to the register to see if it would cost $10 or if it would cost more, as there was a lot of fabric overflowing the top of the paper bag. It was hard to tell how much more than one bag full she had, because she had stuffed so much stuff into the bag that it ripped.
“Eleven dollars,” said clerk Teresa James, who said she had to draw the line someplace.
“OK,” said Serkin.
James cast a long look at her domain of the possible. There were bins and bins of rubber stamps, markers, colored paper, card stock, hole punches, tape, paint and pencils. Most of it was used and some of it was more used than that.
“I don’t know if the world needs this stuff,” she said, “but the world does need for this stuff not to be in a landfill.”