At Karen West’s new store on Ocean Drive, Sustainable Wares, the very building itself embodies the spirit of her product line. With a fresh coat of paint, a sign crafted from repurposed wood and fixtures like light shades made from Bundt cake pans, West has put new life into the venerable half-century old metal building that Homer pioneers remember as Les and Bessie Crane’s Sporter Arms.
Inside, West has decorated her store with upcycled and recycled fixtures. An old cutting table from a former incarnation as a fabric store has been spiffed up with cedar boards from a sauna. A child’s swing displays Chaz Cain of Seldovia’s Salvage line of bags and hats. West’s boyfriend donated an old skateboard and snowboard for display shelves. Several fishing rods serve as curtain poles. Refinished garage sale chairs hold earth-friendly cosmetics. Even the “open” sign is repurposed from egg cartons covered with newspaper and lit up with LED white lights.
West grew up in Baltimore and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor of science in environmental science and cartography from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She came to Alaska after graduating from college, first living in Anchorage where she worked with the Alaska Park Service at its Potter Marsh headquarters in the old railroad section house — she even lived there for a while. West fell in love with Homer on a weekend trip.
“I came to Homer and thought ‘I want to die here,’” she said.
Before starting her own store, West worked in retail at NOMAR and Spenard Builders Supply. Sustainable Wares is her first venture in small business.
“This is the first one,” she said. “It’s been quite a learning process.”
Reuse, repurpose, recycle, upcycle: that’s the idea of her product line. She also sells new products like earth-friendly cosmetics and clothing made from organic cotton or hemp, but a lot of the new products also use recycled materials. The Paws West pet supply line, for example, has dog and cat beds made with stuffing from recycled plastic bottles. A line of household goods use recycled plastic for handles, and when a toothbrush wears out, for example, it can be sent back for recycling.
To West, “sustainable” means “living within its carrying capacity.”
“It’s anything. Sustaining your body. Your body is its own environment. This town is its own environment. This store is its own environment,” she said.
West got the idea for her store when she realized that many of the sustainable products she wanted to buy she could only get online.
“And so was everybody else,” she said. “I have always wanted to start my own store. It eventually evolved because of the need.”
Some items are practical, like house wares and cleaning products. At her grand opening last Saturday, West served pizza on single-use plates made of bamboo, although the plates can be reused several times if washed off.
She also sells drinking straws made from bamboo, steel and unbreakable glass. A line of stationery and office supplies features scissors made with recycled plastic and art paper made with blue jean fibers.
Other items are fanciful, like jewelry, clocks and bowls made from vinyl records. A line of hats and gloves is made from old sweaters. The Alchemy line of bags, belts and wallets looks like shiny black leather, but is actually rubber tire inner tubes.
Sustainable Wares also sells locally made products from Homesteading Roasters and Green T Bags. Lost Things Design — the same company run by Tracy Hansen and Tracy Early that made the Bishop’s Beach and Jack Gist Park signs — painted her outside sign. West also features its smaller signs that say things like “Home Sweet Homer” and “Breathe.” She also has several Lost Things Design benches.
West said she’s open to selling more handcrafted products made in Alaska and the lower Kenai Peninsula.
“I want to get as much local stuff as possible,” she said.
In a town with many shops that also sell interesting, unusual products, West said she’s trying to stay within Sustainable Ware’s philosophy and be different.
“The main thing I’m trying to do is not bring in stuff other people have,” she said. “See what’s lacking in town so there’s a good variety in Homer.”
With its Ocean Drive location right after the curve from Lake Street as it goes over Beluga Lake, Sustainable Wares is on the way to the Homer Spit. It’s also right at the new crosswalk painted across Ocean Drive from Homeric Traders, next door to the Homer Farmers Market and nearby Gig’s Beads.
“I like the Ocean Drive location with Homeric Traders,” she said. “Both of us are excited with each other being here — and being next to the Farmers Market.”
Shoppers browsing through Sustainable Wares could be heard saying “This is cool” and “Oh, this would make a great gift.”
People who can’t decide what to buy can purchase gift certificates, West said. Sustainable Wares is open five days a week, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Owner: Karen West
Address: 1103A Ocean Drive
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Specializing in: Handmade and sustainable goods made from organic cotton, hemp, natural products, and recycled and upcycled materials. Products include health and beauty supplies, cleaning supplies, clothing, bags, office supplies, jewelry, household goods and pet supplies.
More info: On Facebook at www.facebook.com/sustainablewares