Everything at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse already has served one purpose.
Several thousand plastic goat and donkey figurines, all with unsettling red eyes, were used in some sort of psychology experiment at the University of Pittsburgh before being donated to the reuse center in North Point Breeze. Hundreds of pairs of teeny foldable scissors — once, perhaps, part of first aid kits — were donated by a medical supply organization. Dozens of trophies, ranging in size from just a few inches to five feet, mark accomplishments from long ago.
These things are just a few of the thousands of items available for purchase at the center, which promotes conservation, creativity and community engagement through the reuse of materials ranging from scraps of fabric, leather and wax, to paintings, sculptures and scrapbooks.
Assistant shop manager and merchandiser Ashley Andrews is in charge of what she calls “magic making” — displaying the donated items in a pleasing way.
“We are in the creative reuse realm, so display of items is important,” she said.
Ms. Andrews, an artist, helps visitors find what they’re looking for, even if they don’t know what it is they need.
But usually, it’s more of a nudge than a shove. She positioned a basket of “little carpet doodads” — inch-long carpet segments rolled into cylinders — near paintings and prints to “gently suggest” the doodads’ use in art projects.
“I don’t want to limit people by saying, ‘This could be creatively reused into this,’ ” she said.
In a nod to the center’s founder, Faye Miller, there’s a work station in the middle of the shop called the “Maker Mill.” Right now, it’s a collage station, but the craft theme changes monthly, Ms. Andrews said.
Ms. Miller founded the center in 2007, when it focused mostly on creative reuse programs. The center moved to its current location in the Construction Junction warehouse — with 4,000 square feet of space — last July to expand its retail offerings, executive director Breen Masciotra said.
Because everything is based on the donations of companies and individuals, the shop’s stock changes every day. Ms. Masciotra said she hopes to attract more corporate donors to pledge reusable items in bulk on a regular basis to make some of the shop’s offerings more consistent.
On Tuesday, there was a whole section of wooden bowls and platters, but if they spark inspiration in a visitor to the store, they could all be gone in an instant.
“Every single day is a different store,” Ms. Andrews said.
Shop manager Erika Johnson said one of the most interesting donations was something she calls “Ernie’s life.” A man came to PCCR with a box of scrapbooks his mother had kept since he was a child — school papers, report cards, a communion certificate. He said he was comfortable donating all of it, even though it contained a lot of personal information. An artist came and bought all of it, and is likely “making fabulous art out of Ernie’s life,” Ms. Johnson said.
Another offbeat item is a set of “tissue grinders,” which Ms. Johnson said would retail for $200. Center personnel priced them at $18 each.
“That’s a pretty lovely little vase,” she said, noting the “provocative shape” of the curvy glass test tube, big enough to hold a single flower, maybe two.
Ms. Andrews said the “backbone” of the center is collecting items that would otherwise go to a landfill — the whole shop is a limbo of items that wouldn’t be tossed in blue bags and set on curbs to be recycled or found on the shelves of a thrift store. Squares of carpet, leftover flyers and leaflets, bins of beads, books of fabric samples, dozens of cartoonish plastic pig heads, old magazines and encyclopedias, slides of photos from family vacations and MRI scans of brains are all available for purchase, and more donations are stacked in back warehouses.
The center depends on volunteers to help sort through donations, and Ms. Johnson said volunteers spend a lot of time sorting and measuring fabric scraps. The cost of processing donated fabric is high, and she said the center “can’t exist without volunteer help.”
“If we don’t have someone to measure the fabric, we can’t sell the fabric,” she said.
For artists and teachers, the center is a “vital resource,” Ms. Andrews said.
“Almost any project you can dream of, you can find the materials for it here.”
In addition to running the shop, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse also holds classes and events; the next one will be held Saturday and will teach attendees how to fashion a wallet, checkbook cover or iPad case out of recycled fabric. The class is $15 and includes materials; register at www.pccr.org.
The center also holds a happy hour-like event called “Meet ‘n Make” on the second Thursday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. The center provides a costumed model, and attendees are encouraged to draw or paint the model or bring knitting or other craft projects. Admission is $10 and includes beer and coffee.
PCCR is located at 214 North Lexington St. in North Point Breeze and is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Details: 412-473-0100.
First Published May 17, 2012 4:42 am