From opening in 2019 to nearly closing due to COVID, through revival and growth, nonprofit organization 757 Creative ReUse Center’s journey has led to a brightly-lit space in MacArthur Mall. The rustic-industrial shelving, warm lighting, and high ceilings are a huge glow up from the cramped, dark, garage on Granby Street where it began.
Their Grand Reopening Party is Saturday, April 1st, from 12-4 pm, and will feature a raffle, a silent auction, and music.
But for now, Beth Dryer, director of the 757 Creative ReUse Center (757CRC), sits on a paisley couch, part of the sewing circle in the new space. “I’ve been a lifelong crafter; I love to learn how to do new things and fill my bag of tricks with skills like leatherworking, mending, crochet. Something that really drives me as a creator and artist is learning new techniques and sharing what I know with others.” A Norfolk native, she went to school in Richmond and lived there for many years but eventually heeded the call to sail home. And when she returned, she noticed something was missing: a craft store. “I asked my mom, where is the craft store these days? And she said, ‘oh, you know, Virginia Beach or Chesapeake’. There was literally nowhere in Norfolk where you could go to buy regular old craft supplies.” That was in 2013.
As a working artist, Beth was going to craft shows and creating and selling art made from reclaimed materials. “Something I did that really caught on, and resonated with a lot of people, was putting little succulents into baby-doll-head planters.” While on the art show circuit, she often reflected on what her next move could be. “What would be best for me personally? How could I do something that was also giving back to the community? I always liked the idea of doing something in the nonprofit realm. It’s not really about making money, but about creating something that’s good for everyone.”
In 2018, she was approached by George Arbogust, creator and host of the web series Salvage Upcycle Show, to interview her for an episode. He had recently been to The Scrap Exchange in Durham, NC, and shot an episode there. “It’s essentially the reuse mecca of the east coast. When he told me about it, I was like ‘Whoa. A thrift store for arts and craft supplies?!’” The more they talked, the more they thought, somebody, should really do this here. Somebody should, somebody should…
“He messaged me a couple of weeks later, ‘how serious are you about doing this? Because I think we can.’ We could be that somebody.” So they made a Facebook event inviting people to come to a public interest meeting. About 25 people showed up. At first, they held supply swaps at various breweries around town. People could pay $5-10 to come and bring craft supplies they wanted to get rid of and take whatever supplies they wanted in return. It was a smashing success; so successful that they had to get a storage unit for the leftover supplies because people always brought more stuff than they took.
The goal was always to open a brick-and-mortar store. “But at the time, we were all volunteers. We put up a GoFundMe to see if we could raise the approximately $1,200 in fees associated with becoming a non-profit. We raised that, and, with some very good help from the folks who stepped up to be on our original board, were able to incorporate as a non-profit by the end of 2018.” In April 2019, they opened at the Granby Street location. Beth transitioned from volunteer to employee, more staff were hired, and the ball kept rolling. “It’s been a great experience to see how many people resonate with the idea, who bring you their things they’re not using anymore.”
But in 2020, 757CRC hit a snag, along with the rest of the world. “When COVID started, we had only been open for like 10 months, so there wasn’t much money in the bank. And then everything just stopped. You have to close your business because you’re not essential. You can’t go to work. I forget for how long that was, but it seemed like forever.” And after nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen, there were still social-distancing restrictions. “It was a very small shop, and we could only let in about eight people at a time.”
They were making no money and still had to pay two staff members’ salaries, rent, and utilities. They got a PPP loan, but as a fairly new business, they lacked the financial information to back up the request, so the loan was small. After a board meeting where they reviewed their financials, they decided to close the store. If 757CRC went broke and had zero dollars in the bank, it would essentially cease to exist and could no longer fulfill its mission. But if they closed, they could save what money they had, continue operations on a different level, and one day reopen the store.
“So that was the plan. We announced that we were closing, and then a week later, we found out that we had been awarded a $15,000 grant from the City of Norfolk as part of the CARES Grant Covid assistance to cover our operational costs. That’s what really saved our bricks and mortar. And that was just a straight grant! We didn’t have to pay it back or anything; it really turned things around. We didn’t have to worry as much about how we were going to pay rent or how we were going to pay our staff costs. We could just keep going! And that’s a happy little story.”
But Beth had always wanted to relocate. “From the moment we moved into the building on Granby, it was too small for what we were trying to do. Our three goals, which we’ve been trying to do from the beginning, were to Decrease Waste, Inspire Creativity, and Educate about Sustainability. And we were just not able to have that educational aspect there because there was literally no place to put it.”
Initially, classes were held in the building before it became filled with supplies. Staff bought gazebos, metal chairs, and folding tables to host outdoor programming but could only feasibly do it from April through October. Beth recalls, “If it rained, we called it off. Or if it was too sweltering hot. Or if it was too windy! Otherwise, your materials are just blowing around, there are some things that you just can’t do outside, like teaching people how to sew. It’s just not going to work; it’s too messy. We also tried off-site events, going to different people’s places. But now here we are, sitting in our classroom!”
From the couch where we sit, she waves her hand towards the back of the shop, where several rows of tables are arranged. She grins and continues, “We’re going to be able to have classes right here in our space. We can probably serve 20-30 people at a time.” It will also be the Open Studio Space where members can come and do their crafts and not have to worry about getting their house messy. “They can use our tools, our sewing machines and our glue guns, our die cutting machines – that was one of the big things that we’ve always wanted to do since the beginning.”
In addition to more space, the old building also had a lot of maintenance issues. The AC didn’t work; sometimes, it would be 85° inside. The toilet didn’t always flush. “It really was just a garage that was converted into a retail space and never worked super well for us, so we started looking for a new space.”
There were obstacles. Searching for a commercial property is not the same as house-hunting. There’s no agent to show you listings and help you find a space you like. There were lots of cold-callings, and hoping someone answers the phone or gets back to you. It was a long process. “The first place kinda fell into our lap. Somebody said, ‘hey, I’m leaving this building, are you interested in taking over?’ So we did. But now we were looking for a place with classroom space, storage space, ADA compliance, and convenient parking – we are a donation-based store after all. Nobody’s gonna carry boxes of supplies from a parking garage several blocks away.” The new space has a service exit that opens directly onto the parking garage. Those small donations can just walk through the front door. But if you have a car-load, the staff will meet you in the garage with a rollie cart and bring it in through the service door.
I asked if the fitting rooms (it used to be the Eddie Bauer store) were going to be storage closets. Nope! “The fitting rooms are going to become mini boutiques for artists to rent and display their work, and we will sell it for them. There are going to be six of them, and then the 7th one is going to be our staff boutique. So anybody who works here can put their stuff in there, and we’ll sell it.” Preference will be given to artists who use reclaimed or upcycled materials.
Another question – Any reservations about renting a space in MacArthur Mall? “No. To the best of our understanding, the mall is for sale, but it isn’t closing and is set to operate as a mall until 2029. Besides, in any rental situation, the building could be sold.” On that note, 757CRC’s location inside the mall is well-suited to its neighbors, such as the Governor’s School for the Arts Gallery, the PLAY installation, a boutique selling upcycled clothing and crafts, and several other galleries. It was somewhat intentional, says Beth. “I would love for this whole place to become the Art Mall or the Small Business Mall. Legally, I can’t tell you how much we’re paying here, but it is incredibly attractive as far as the amount that we’re paying for the space that we get. I really also like the idea of reclaiming these capitalist spaces, taking them back and making them our own.”
If you also like making things your own, consider becoming a 757CRC member. It costs $100 per year and can be billed monthly, quarterly, or annually. Membership gets you access to the studio space any time the 757CRC is open (and not actively holding a class) and use of all their tools, such as sewing machines and die-cutting machines. It also includes a $20 per month class credit that can be applied to any class; class prices range from $5-40.
757CRC will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, with a grand opening set for April 1st.
Catie was born in Norfolk and as an adult has lived here for two years and change. She has a master's in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. She likes hiking, playing trivia, being a flaneuse, pinball, memes, and growing vegetables.