Like a museum, Earthwise Architectural Salvage on McKinley Hill stands guard against the wasteful demons of a throw-away society.
Call it a museum of the mundane, a foster home for once-useful items awaiting a chance to perform once again.
Do you need a few dozen doorknobs, some vacuum tubes or the polished flooring that once graced the lanes of a bowling alley or the basketball court at Lakeside School? Or perhaps you’re seeking some student lockers salvaged from a school on Vashon Island? A set of TV trays perhaps, or maybe some lampshades or an old trumpet?
Front doors, back doors, bedroom doors? A green bathtub, a brown toilet, an old white sink?
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“Colored appliances are hot,” said Tracey Earles, Earthwise manager and buyer.
Remember that bathroom sink the color of an avocado?
Chances are you can find it again in one of the buildings or there in the yard at 628 E. 60th St. in Tacoma.
Some visitors to Earthwise come as pilgrims.
JoAnn Shuckhart and Mark Wilson of Tacoma came with a truck filled with the stuff of several decades — such as a few shovel blades bereft of their wooden handles, a few old buckets, some cabinets. a chair.
“I’ve lived in the same house for 25 years,” Shuckhart said. “I need to get rid of some of this stuff. If somebody can use it, I’m happy.”
This was her third trip in about that many weeks.
“If I want,” she said, “I can come and visit my stuff, but hopefully somebody can use it. Pretty much, they take everything. I’ve still got a couple more loads.”
“It feels like you’re not just throwing stuff away,” said Wilson.
“Somewhere along the line I thought this was a treasure,” Shuckhart said, holding up an item difficult to identify.
“I just didn’t want to put it in a landfill,” she said.
That’s part of the point of the business. This isn’t just a place to find a pink bidet, a clawfoot tub, a slab of silver maple, some bowling pins or bowling balls, a slab of granite or an old carved newel.
Earthwise also is an alternative to the landfill.
“We repurpose, reuse and recycle,” Earles said.
Bill Baarsma, former Tacoma mayor and current president of the Tacoma Historical Society, knows the work at Earthwise.
“Part of the mission of the historical society is to serve as a line of defense between Tacoma’s historic treasures and the landfill,” he said last week.
“We support any organization that supports that mission. The alternative is cluttering up the landfill and creating problems for the waste stream,” he said.
Dale Wirsing, who drives a 1966 Valiant and serves as vice president of the historical society, agrees.
“I think it’s very important,” he said.
A business such as Easrthwise “increases our sense of being connected with the past and what previous generations did for us,” he said.
Reuben McKnight, historic preservation officer for the city of Tacoma, agrees with Baarsma.
“This is an opportunity to put things back to use rather than ending up in the landfill,” he said.
“People like shopping for real things, the old things that have been removed from houses, and by doing so, they get to know their houses better. These things, they’re not worthless. One of the things Earthwise can do is help demonstrate that these things have value. There is a home for these things to go to,” he said.
McKnight has worked with Earthwise, and he said, “They’ve been very engaged, really trying to highlight awareness. This is a service and a resource.”
“A lot of people just come in and wander,” Earles said.
Some come to buy: contractors, remodelers, history buffs, designers, artists looking for material, homeowners looking for that one special thing that is no longer manufactured and could well be hiding in bins and stacks otherwise filled with those doorknobs, or the hinges from doors long gone, or the wavy glass that gave way to modern triple-pane.
“We have a lot of artists who come in here for inspiration and ideas,” Earles said.
“People do come by and we trade for store credit,” said co-manager Karen Carston.
“We are a for-profit business,” said Earles.
It is a for-profit business run by women and has been in operation in Tacoma for two years in a section of the Hillsdale Lumber yard. Another, similar outlet operates in Seattle.
“Seattle has just a whole different breed of people,” Earles said. “They have more disposable income, where we’re more resourceful, willing to wait.
“We prefer to keep it local,” she said. “We send a lot of people to Lincoln Hardware and J.R. Redding. We’re only two years old. People are just getting to know us.”
Earthwise buys, sells and trades, and Earles said the business prefers to trade for items rather than offer cash.
Community service is a large part of the business, she said, noting a recent art show at the yard and a series of “salvage workshops” where visitors could learn about shadow-box construction, glass cutting and the finer points of stripping windows without causing contamination.
“We want people to think of us as a first stop,” she said.
Especially if they’re looking for some used smudge pots, a deconstructed accordion, fireplace grates, golf clubs or those other things that are simply a garnish of everyday life, the objects, bright and shiny or not, that have no names other than “doohickey” or “thingamabob.”
“We’re always going to be there for the original items,” Earles said. “It’s definitely in our heart — preserving the past.
“We’re just a little bit quirky here.”