The Idea Store celebrates 10 years in CU community

By Carolina Garibay

Calling all crafters, office supply fanatics and environmentalists! The Idea Store, a creative reuse center in Urbana, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and it wants all creative minds to explore what the store has to offer.

“We’re like a thrift store for arts and crafts supplies and school supplies,” said Jessy Ruddell, a store employee. “Kind of anything you can think of that you don’t find at the regular thrift store, you can find here.” Ruddell started volunteering for the store in 2015, and she is now the executive director.

The Idea Store started in 2010 as a part of the C-U Schools Foundation, and this year marks the store’s 10th year of operations. As a part of this celebration, the store offers 20% off on gift cards now through November, which customers can purchase in the store or online. Ruddell said she wanted to have a big celebration, but COVID-19 regulations have caused Ruddell and other store employees to adapt, not just for the 10th anniversary but for regular business as well.

“Like many other small businesses, it’s hit us very hard,” Ruddell said. “We were closed for about five months, so our budget has completely gone out the window.” After closing in mid-March and reopening in August, Ruddell first experimented with an online store model, which ended up not suiting the nature model of the business.

Now, though, the store is open to a limited number of in-person customers. Customers are required to wear a face mask at all times while in the store. 

Since all of the store’s merchandise is donated, Ruddell has adapted the donation process to follow COVID-19 regulations. For example, she is requiring appointments for donations instead of the walk-in donation process the store had before the pandemic. She’s also limiting the size of donations. Though this new appointment-based donation system may not be as convenient as before, Ruddell said this process has made managing inventory easier. Currently, donation appointments are completely booked about a month out.

“We are very dependent on the community for the items we bring in and sell to people and for volunteers,” Ruddell said. “There’s no way we could get all the work we have to do done without a great crew of volunteers.”

This donation-based nature of the store allows for a different shopping experience for customers almost every time. The store has some items available, such as fabric, pencils, markers and other school and office supplies, but everything else depends on what people bring in. Graduation tassels and iPhone boxes are just a couple of examples of the unique items one might find at the store.

“We try to post anything new and cool on our social media to keep that interest up and remind people that it is a different store pretty much every day you come in,” Ruddell said. 

Prices are also cheap, said Ruddell, which allows customers to find supplies at a lower cost than new items you might buy elsewhere.

In addition, the store helps reduce waste, which Ruddell said is one of the store’s primary goals.

“Part of our mission is environmental and keeping stuff out of the landfill,” Ruddell said. “Every time you buy something new, there’s a whole manufacturing and distribution process that goes into that, and there’s a lot of waste that comes with that. You can cut a lot of that out by choosing to reuse.”

On top of the environment, the store is passionate about social justice issues. In the past, Ruddell said the store had donated materials to protestors, and they have an ongoing offer for any Black-led organizations for free supplies whenever they need them.

Ruddell has some advice for those visiting the store for the first time. She suggests coming in on any day that isn’t Saturday — the store’s busiest day — so you can take your time. She also encourages newcomers to check out every corner of the store.

“It’s pretty fun to see customers when they first come through the door when they’ve never been here, and it’s sort of overwhelming, but it’s pretty magical,” Ruddell said.

Those interested in donating items or money to help out the store can visit The Idea Store website