Monday, June 22, 2015

Upcycle Exchange Leaving South Grand for New Venture on Cherokee

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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It's not just Strange Folk Festival that's moving to a new location in the coming months.

Autumn Wiggins, who founded the much-loved crafts festival, announced last week she's moving it from O'Fallon, Illinois, to St. Louis' Union Station. And, she told Riverfront Times in a follow-up phone call, she's also uprooting her craft shop, Upcycle Exchange, from South Grand to Cherokee Street.

The South Grand shop will close its doors this Wednesday, June 24. Wiggins isn't sure yet when she'll open the new shop at 2900 Cherokee. "I will play it by ear," she says.

But she promises one thing -- big changes.

"It's not going to be the same Upcycle Exchange," she says. "I cannot continue to operate at 50 hours a week."

See also: Strange Folk Festival Coming to Union Station in September

The new space will be less retail shop and more festival headquarters, with a retail component. She's calling it Gnome Base, and says Upcycle will operate out of it -- but will be open to the public only about 10 to 15 hours a week. Customers will be able to order supplies online, and then come in during store hours for pickups. "It's going to be kind of like a co-op," Wiggins says.

And that, just like the move to Cherokee, is a return to its roots. Upcycle Exchange got RFT's nod for "Best Art Supplies" in 2010, and as our item noted, it operated out of the basement of a Cherokee co-op at the time. For a $20 quarterly fee, participants got a tote continuously filled with donated items matching their individual wish lists -- "a mobile operation," in Wiggins' words, "whose front-end existence is primarily on the Internet."

Then came the move to South Grand. But even with a dedicated brick-and-mortar space, Upcycle kept its indie roots. Pricing is pay-as-you-wish; customers who bring in items on Wiggins' wish list get store credit.

Pulling back from the shop was not part of Wiggins' initial plan. In the early part of 2015, she informed the City of O'Fallon that she was pulling the plug on Strange Folk Festival, partly because she was exhausted and wanted to focus on her store.

See also: Strange Folk Festival Founder Autumn Wiggins Battles O'Fallon Over Event She Created

But when the city argued that it should be able to hold the festival without her, Wiggins found herself reconsidering everything. She knew there could be no Strange Folk without her -- and she didn't want to some half-assed version of the festival anyway. She decided to move Strange Folk to Union Station instead of shutting it down -- and scale way back at her store.

"I thought I was drawing back from Strange Folk to run Upcycle," she muses. "Now it's the opposite."

Upcycle Exchange's current home on South Grand. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Photo by Sarah Fenske
  • Upcycle Exchange's current home on South Grand.

Wiggins bubbles over with excitement talking about her plans for Strange Folk. She's loved Union Station since she was a child, she says, and she has elaborate plans to organize crafters inside its empty stores and create installations throughout its elegant halls. She plans to have no less than 10 bands.

"Nobody's ever done this in the entire country," she says.

So far, the reaction from the craft community has been huge. "On our Facebook event page, we have more people saying they're coming in less than 24 hours than people who say they're going to LouFest," she marvels. "Everybody is so, so excited."

It will remain free to attend, but Wiggins is hoping that she won't be laboring for free -- nor will the others who labor for months to make the festival happen. Those who donate $10 as an admission fee will get a special sticker, good for perks including 10 percent off at any vendor, she says.

But no matter how excited she is about the space, the 2015 iteration of Strange Folk is a one-off, Wiggins says.

"I love the statement that it makes to have it in Union Station, but this is a one-time thing," she says. After all, , construction will begin later this year on an amusement park slated for the structure.

Still, Wiggins is no longer ready to say goodbye to Strange Folk for good.

"If it works out that it makes sense for me to keep doing this, I will keep doing it," she says.

We welcome tips and feedback. Contact the writer via email at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

Editor's note: This story was changed after publication to make it clear that donations to Strange Folk Fest earn a 10 percent discount, not $10 off. We regret the error.

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