I.D.E.A. Store raises funds for Champaign-Urbana schools by selling reusable items to the community

By Abrar Al-Heeti

Anyone shopping for colorful bundles of yarn, toothpick umbrellas or film canisters should make the I.D.E.A. Store in Champaign their first stop. The shop specializes in selling inexpensive, reusable and useful items to the community, with all proceeds going towards funding Champaign-Urbana schools.

General Manager and co-founder of the I.D.E.A. Store Gail Rost said the idea for the store struck the founders about five and a half years ago while looking for an opportunity to raise additional funds for Champaign-Urbana schools.

A friend of hers saw creative reuse stores in other parts of the country and was interested in establishing something similar locally.

The two of them came together and formed a business plan, and the I.D.E.A. Store began.

“It’s evolved tremendously since then, but it is based on a model for creative reuse centers,” Rost said. “There are some in the country, and they’re growing.”

Rost said along with raising funds for public schools in Champaign-Urbana, other goals include providing a place for people to bring and buy quality items and to “interrupt the waste stream” by providing a place for people to donate items that would have ended up in the trash.

“The other strong piece of the goal is education — we really want to teach people about creative reuse and about reuse as an alternative to recycling,” Rost said. “Because most of the things we sell, you can recycle it after you’ve used it again. So it just sort of slows the whole waste stream down.”

The store tries to only put out high-quality items, so that even if they are used, they are in good or almost-new condition.

Community members are the largest donors, who also make up the majority of the store’s customers.

Rost said they have diverse donors who bring in a wide range of assorted items.

“It’s a broad community — we have elderly, we have baby boomers who are downsizing, we have students that are leaving the community, we have faculty and staff who are moving, we have estate sales, individuals, so it’s a variety,” she said. “And we do have business donors as well.”

Some of the things the store gets from estate sales have never been used before, especially craft items, Rost said. And small businesses donate items that have been overstocked, such as office supplies. There is a mix of new and used items throughout the store.

Community members are not the only customers. Rost said the I.D.E.A. Store serves about 60 not-for-profit organizations, including Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, preschools, teachers, park districts and bible schools, to name a few.

“What we’re discovering of course is that our stuff is reasonably priced, and so a lot of organizations come here to buy for big things,” she said.

Selling to a wide array of customers is something the I.D.E.A. Store aims to do.

“It’s essential to our business plan to have a broad reach,” Rost said. “We cannot try to sell to just one type of buyer. So one of our merchandising goals is to have a broad variety of things out on the floor so that it appeals to many types of different people.”

Noe Navar is an incoming senior at the University of Illinois who has frequented the I.D.E.A. Store since his freshman year. He checks out the store about once a month.

Navar said he shops for items for projects, gifts or if he wants something for his room.

“There are a lot of unique things here,” he said. “You could furnish your room with things from here.”

Justin Klett has been to the store twice, and said he shops for ideas.

“That’s what the I.D.E.A. Store is best for, is coming here and getting ideas,” he said.

Abrar can be reached at [email protected]