The Dirt

The Dirt

Community Mercantile: Local Reuse Store has Zero-Landfill Mission

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s what we’ve all been taught. But at the Davis Community Mercantile, co-founder Stephanie Koop has repurposed this mantra, encouraging people to instead “retrieve, recycle and reuse”.

To Koop, sustainable living means making the most of what you already have: zero waste, nothing to the landfill. Six-months ago, Koop and her friend Larry Fisher opened the local non-profit with this goal in mind.

The Mercantile serves as a thrift store, tool lending library and community hub offering workshops and classes where folks learn to repair broken items, upcycle and create sustainable art. 

Thrifters will find furniture, clothing, kitchenware and occasional odd treasures. From reptile terrariums to potted plants, the Mercantile has it all. And to get these items back into use quickly, prices are low. Microwaves are $20, art—often amazing pieces—starts as low as $6.

Both driven by a passion for sustainability that began in childhood, Koop and long-time environmental activist Larry Fisher lead by example, showing Davis how to live green.   

Growing up in Marin, California to a low income family, Koop said she learned to use resources wisely. 

“We got a lot of our cousins’ cast offs which were not my style and not my size,” Koop told The Dirt, “It was just a given. I mean, the way we lived our lives was: you don’t waste.”

Throughout her career as a nurse and later as a wife and mother, Koop’s resourcefulness persisted. She initiated a recycling program at a hospital she worked at in Chicago, which still exists today.

Looking back, Koop said that the challenges of nursing contributed to her success as a community salvager at the Mercantile. Dumpster diving for pots and pans? No problem.

“As a nurse you get into, shall we say, dirty business,” Koop laughed. “As far as preparation, that was the best preparation I could’ve had.” 

Fisher also grew up on a tight budget. With limited resources, Fisher and his siblings learned to think creatively, finding ways to make due with what they had. 

“More or less, it was leaving home at a very young age and having to make my way in the world at sixteen not having a lot of resources,” he explained. 

Although Fisher grew up repurposing out of necessity, he said that all people should take action regardless of their income or background. 

“I try to get people to use materials in a new fashion, not because I think that’s going to be their career,” he said, “but the way you look at things, it’s the way you look at something that is readily available locally. And once you get into that, your world changes.”

Koop and Fisher have a team of passionate volunteers, but they still need help. And there are so many ways to get involved.   

There’s a job for everyone at the Mercantile, whether you’re able to move furniture, help with social media outreach, lead a class or contribute financially. “You can still make a lot of change, even though you’re not doing what I’m doing,” Koop said.

Living sustainably looks different for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be restrictive. “You can’t be perfect anyway,” she encouraged. Sometimes, “just good enough” is enough.

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