At first glance, you might think Junket: Tossed & Found is yet another vintage shop surrounded by numerous other vintage shops on Minnehaha Avenue in South Minneapolis. Old rockers, desk chairs, and salvaged theater seats huddle together out front. There’s a ‘90s-era school desk with a flip-up lid and a classic red wagon. An old model horse from a merry-go-round hangs above the doorway.
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But Julie Kearns, founder and “finder” of Junket, doesn’t just want to bring you any old box of goodies. “I want to change behaviors,” she says. Kearns has a serious dedication to keeping stuff out of landfills, but she doesn’t proselytize. Instead, every facet of the store is dedicated to creative reuse, and empowering customers to transform the mundane into the magical.
Dawn, one of Kearns’s three employees, says people often come in and say, “Oh, this reminds me of my grandmother’s house!” Or, “This reminds me of a museum.” And it’s true. There are ceramic dogs and pork pie hats that might shoot you straight back to 1987—or further—when you sat cross-legged on shag carpet and ate Hamburger Helper.
Neil Young and Leonard Cohen play on the stereo. Customers munch on donuts and sip coffee and tea. Creaky floorboards, remnants of grandma’s jewelry box, matryoshka dolls, and matchbox cars: these things put you in a certain nostalgic zone.
The careful observer, however, might notice that Junket is more organized than your average vintage shop. Amid the Lite-Brites and old puzzles, the typewriters and other props that would delight period-specific filmmakers are functional, everyday items—wine corks, kitchen utensils, knitting needles, paper clips.
Aside from the very occasional piece of plastic, Kearns favors materials found in nature—wood, metal, ceramic, glass, copper, cork. But it’s not just cast-offs: “A lot of our stuff is either locally made or it’s made entirely from secondhand materials. For me, ‘locally’ means within 25 miles. I don’t want people driving around just to fill my store with things.”
Recently, Kearns learned of a vendor who was sourcing materials on eBay that looked vintage, but were in fact new. She had to let them go. “Which was tough,” she says, “because they were one of my biggest vendors.”
The average weekend shoppers—the ones who wander in on a whim—might not pick up on Junket’s dedication to zero waste. At the front of the register, there’s a sheet of carbon impact data. Kearns keeps the data up-to-date for customers to see how their purchases are saving on metric tons of carbon dioxide, trees saved, and barrel-of-oil equivalencies. In 2016, the nearly 15,000 items that Junket sold saved over six tons of material from entering the waste stream.
As for 2017, Kearns is thinking beyond to-do lists and data. Instead, she sees a glimmer of a grand plan. “I want to infiltrate mass retail,” she says, “with products that are scalable, reusable, and that will give those mass retailers an opportunity to keep carbon out of the ground.” The road to this infiltration is paved in paper clips. Junket sells two-ounce boxes of 60 to 90 “Mostly Paper Clips,” packaged in toilet paper tubes. Other than the sticker and the piece of tape, the product is 97 percent reused materials. The “mostly” hearkens back to Cracker Jacks. Along with your paper clips, you get one “itty-bit,” as Kearns calls them, say, a feather or a marble.
“Something to keep it fun,” she says. “The world doesn’t need to make a single paper clip ever again,” Kearns continues. “Americans buy 11 billion paper clips every year. Even ACCO doesn’t know where they’re going. For the same amount of carbon it takes to produce this thing, you could fly it round-trip between New York and L.A. twice.”
But infiltrating mass retail is easier said than done. Not everybody brings in loads of paper clips when they donate to Junket. So, Kearns will hopefully start crowdsourcing them, calling on neighbors and community members to scrape up those loose paper clips that collect in the back of desk drawers and get stowed away in storage closets. If and when, she sees Amazon or Target not as corporate entities to be distrusted, but rather as potential partners. After all, these retail giants aren’t going away anytime soon. So, why not work with them? When you shop at Target, the closest you can get to a truly eco-friendly alternative to buying new paper clips are ones made from 100% recycled material (50% of which is post-consumer material), so these “Mostly Paper Clips” would present consumers with an opportunity to vote for reuse, with the added benefit of having a product that isn’t greenwashed; it’s the real thing, salvaged from the community.
Kearns knows every nook of Junket, from source to process, and she can wax practical for hours. She lives to turn over numbers, to find an item’s potential, to exhaust every possibility, which is why there are stations in what she calls the “nether regions.” Junket’s back room down in the basement is stacked with objects in limbo. “To be efficient,” Kearns says, “we have to let things collect so they can become projects.”
There’s a sewing zone, a candle-making zone, an upholstery zone, and an electrical and lighting zone. Say someone donates a few old candles. Kearns’s team will pile them in the candle-making zone until enough collect and they can melt down the wax and make “new” candles.
Kearns also offers a number of original products. Junket’s popular art prints feature quotes or slogans printed on the pages of old books. Kearns takes an X-ACTO knife to, say, a beat-up dictionary, carefully cuts a page and runs the page through the printer after graphically designing the lettering. A while back, someone brought in a stack of bingo cards, so Kearns used them, along with secondhand paper, to make journals.
Though Kearns seems endlessly resourceful, she also knows that without collaboration, Junket wouldn’t exist. (Twice during my visit, she referred to Junket as a “community center.”) Once or twice a week, local artists and educators offer classes in the basement of the shop, from mosaic-making to suminagashi (the Japanese art of paper marbling). Meg Erke, Junket’s “artist-in-residence,” leads a number of these free, drop-in classes, where she utilizes repurposed or salvage materials. Occasionally, Junket facilitates discussions about how to “Go Zero Waste.” Lately, they’ve been getting neighbors together to write letters to local politicians. “So much of my customer base was upset by the recent election, so why not create a space for that emotion?” Kearns asks.
Three times during my visit, Kearns said, “Welcome to Junket.” The first time she said it, I tripped over a cowboy boot. The second time, she was plugging in a heat lamp to give an embossing demonstration and almost knocked over a plant by the front window. The last, we’d lost track of time, digressing, chatting too long. She was late for a meeting. She hurried out the door and called “Welcome to Junket” as a farewell in a cheery tone.
That little phrase seems to embody Junket’s ethos. Trip up? Broken? Get lost down a rabbit hole? No worries. This is life. In the Midwest, we’re often quick to apologize. You may not understand everything in the shop—the random doll arms or the kitchen towels adorned with “Namaste, motherfucker” and other delightful swears—and you may knock over a cowboy boot, but Kearns believes deeply in the work she does: keeping stuff out of landfills. No apologies. Welcome to Junket.