The Cool Davis Quarterly Coalition and Partnership meeting was held at the Community Mercantile Wednesday March 20, 2024, from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. Members of the Cool Davis Coalition convened and discussed developments, efforts, and future goals. Attendees who presented included Cool Davis Executive Director Chris Granger, Mercantile Co-founder Stephanie Koop, and Mercantile Board Member Lois Erhartic. Following a welcome and introductions, the group enjoyed a tour of the Community Mercantile and its myriad ideas and inspirations for reduced consumption and community resilience.

The Mercantile’s mission is to assist our community in reducing the environmental impact of consumer culture and unnecessary waste through innovative, replicable solutions in an equitable, sustainable manner. Stephanie leads the effort, sharing with the group that the “Community Mercantile collects things people are no longer using that might otherwise go to the landfill. We either get them directly out into the community or sell them in our shop. We get new items daily, clean them, and offer them at fabulous prices. If someone uses it, we probably have it! Cash, Venmo, Zelle, and personal checks are accepted and delivery is available.” Learn more about the Davis Community Mercantile.

Stephanie’s Remarks:

Thanks for coming here to see our shop and hear about our history, our team, our mission, and our vision for the future. I’ve been an environmentalist my entire life-mostly purchasing used clothing, repurposing items, and trying to use earth’s resources with thoughts of future generations in mind. I feel that each of us has a responsibility to care for the earth so that we leave it better than we found it. Without everyone’s involvement, I don’t believe the earth will be livable in the future.

About 10 years ago, I began volunteering for the City of Davis in their apartment move out program which occurred annually at the end of August as students moved out. I had little concept of how much waste was generated by that one annual activity. I was aghast at the repeated dumpster viewings I had at the many apartment complexes and all their sordid messes. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something to change that situation. Unfortunately, not much change occurred over the years I volunteered.

During the pandemic, apartment move out was paused. Frustrated by the pause, I became curious about seeing what was happening around me year round. I bought a truck and began salvaging at the same apartment complexes I had been volunteering at in August every year and found an unending supply of used and sometimes new clothing, furnishings, and other household items. I reached out to many local non-profits to offer them free items but they lacked significant storage space to make a dent in my collection. I sold some items from my home with the help of social media but it was a frustrating experience. Through that and other experiences, I found that none of our local administrative bodies were managing their waste streams in a sustainable manner. I decided the only answer to managing the waste was to open a reuse shop focused on getting salvaged goods back into use.

Building a team

During the pandemic as I shared my frustration about the waste stream with others, Larry Fisher’s name continued to come up. After a time, I found him and we had a long conversation and decided to work together. Shortly after meeting Larry and starting to look for a store front, James texted me on social media. We knew each other very peripherally through apartment move out. But after another long conversation, James and I agreed that we shared a path and vision and would plan to work together.

The three of us felt the mission of our organization was much more than a business selling used goods. We wanted to bring more awareness to the community about the amount of reusable items in the waste stream, encourage folks to borrow instead of buy tools, and teach community members ways of being sustainable through our classes. At our shop, one of the ways we model sustainability is by buying nothing but toilet paper and laundry detergent new. We limit donations to our shop so that we have enough room for salvage collections which we prioritize.

We hired a tax person to help make our organization non-profit, we started posting on FB marketplace, Nextdoor, and Instagram to get the word out about our shop and it’s mission out to Davis and the wider community. We gave interviews to KDRT, The Dirt, and The Enterprise. We put up a shop sign. We had a soft opening on Setember 11, 2022, then a grand opening during the height of move-in season for the students.

As our organization has evolved, Larry, James, and I have each taken on some roles and responsibilities and have begun to expand our team with more folks who share our mission and vision. Stephanie runs board meetingss does quarterly taxes for the organization; interacts and collaborates with volunteers and board members on tasks that keep the shop organized and efficient; goes to home estate sales after they are finished selling; writes the newsletter; donates items to various places including homeless shelters, refugees, and other local non-profits, thrift stores, and individuals (in our free pile outside our shop); writes up social media posts for items being sold in the shop; follows up on ads; gives interviews; picks up donations; develops and maintains connections w/local individuals and businesses; sells items at the shop; and, [most importantly] interacts with customers, hearing their reuse/repurposing stories and sharing our mission.

Larry salvages and recovers reusable items; washes and repairs used items; donates and distributes used items around town; develops and; maintains connections w/local individuals and businesses; and gives interviews. James worked on shop signage and the newsletter in the early days; attended Art Alliance meetings; posts regularly on out FB page; volunteers in the shop, helping with lamp repair and organizing; and he also helps collect items for the shop after estate sales.

Larry salvages daily mostly food and construction waste but also brings by items for the shop including clothes, furnishings, and other items. He has a regular route to local grocery stores, coffee shops, Recology, and local dumpsters. He donates items to local teachers, community gardens, UC Davis Community farms, local freedges, the Night Market for the unhoused, some elderly individuals at Rancho Yolo, the free pile at N street cohousing, Grace Gardens, the Domes, and the Tri coops. Most of my salvaging is in the form of drive by dumpster diving and summertime apartment move out forays since so much of my time is taken up by administrative tasks. But unsold home estate sale items play a critical role in adding to the unique collection of goods we offer.

New volunteers bring new roles

Lois recently joined our Board of Directors. She moved to Davis from the East Coast just about 2 and a half years ago. Lois has been in both board and leadership positions in various non-profits over the years and had her sights set on finding an organization to devote her time, energy, and skills to once she was settled in. She saw a post of mine on Next Door
looking for volunteers in a number of areas and came to talk to me about how to help. She started by updating our website for us. which gave her an intimate look into our mission and operation. Although Lois doesn’t describe herself as an environmentalist, she has lived her life with a keen eye to the environmental impact of her lifestyle. She embraces our mission and lends her skills in marketing, business operations, and leadership to help us move forward towards realizing all mission.

Jeff recently joined our Board of Directors. He likes to keep a low profile but his influence shows up all over the shop, most especially in the hardware area, which he keeps neat and tidy, the rotating music playlist of eclectic musicians, and the circle wall that holds a wide variety of mostly non-sellable but interesting looking circular objects. He has also been working on the tool lending library and helping collect items for the shop post estate sales. He shows up every day the shop is open!

Non-board member volunteers include three weekly volunteers and our clothing volunteer, Patte, who comes in daily to keep things tidy and make it an enjoyable experience for all.

By the numbers

Although Larry and I put approximately $20,000 combined into the shop over the first year to get things established, in the 19 months since we’ve been open, we now have almost $80,000 in the bank. There are no paid employees in the organization currently. Some ideas for the future include restarting classes, moving to a bigger place to house larger items and more selection, and more volunteers to decrease workload for all.

We can always use more volunteers! We need grant writers, social media volunteers, tax people, a bookkeeper, volunteers to talk to people about the shop and volunteer opportunities.

Thank you!

Lois’s Remarks:

I am going to tell you a bit about how our shop works, some other things we have accomplished in our first year, some of the things we have planned for the future and finally how you can help us continue to fulfill our mission.

We are open 18 hours per week to sell the items in our shop. Shop hours are Thursday and Friday 2pm to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday 12pm to 5pm. We accept cash, check, Venmo, and Zelle. We offer delivery in Davis for a small fee. We also have a lending library available whenever we are open but still need to work on cataloging and cleaning the tools.

When the founding team was conceptualizing ways to support the mission, they decided to offer downsizing consulting. This is yet another hat that Stephanie herself wears. Downsizing can be a daunting task, and she meets with folks to suggest resources that provide an alternative to putting excess belongings out with the trash. This service is especially helpful to out-of-town folks coming to Davis to clear out a loved one’s home.

As we look to the future, we hope to build our volunteer base. More people will help spread the word about who we are and what we do, allow us to begin to seek and obtain grants, re-start classes, promote sustainability to the school age kids in our town, and move to a bigger place to house even more items to be re-used and re-purposed.

Cool Davis and Community Mercantile share the common vision of promoting sustainable living in Davis and beyond. To that end, we hope each of you will help us spread the word about our shop, and what we offer for volunteer opportunities and as an alternative to online and big box store purchases. I know for me, it took a bit of retraining of my own behavior to stay away from big box stores and Amazon and remember to look first at the Merc for what I need.

We are so glad to be able to host your Coalition meeting this afternoon and give you a full introduction to our history, our shop and our dreams for the future.