3 Entrepreneurs Make an Art out of Collecting, Recycling and Plant Sales

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Selling secondhand or recycled items isn’t a novel idea. But here are three Denver entrepreneurs who have added a new twist to the resale game.

The Pine Needle Creek Barn Sale

Years ago, Sonia Nolta, then a FedEx driver, noticed all of the garage sales that peppered her routes. Then she began thrifting, and realized that she had an eye for collecting and a talent for restoring and decorating cast-offs. It wasn’t long before Sonia’s home was transformed into a showplace, and her hobby turned serious.

To accommodate this growing passion, her husband, Don Nolta, built a barn on their mountain property in Pine. His intentions were to have a workshop on the ground level, while Sonia used the upstairs for her projects. That dream was short-lived as carting heavy furniture up the stairs proved impossible.

The barn quickly became Sonia’s domain.

Equipped with the skills and ideal setting to start a business, Sonia increased her stock, became adept at painting furniture, and developed an eye for spotting trendy, vintage, retro and antique pieces.

Seven years ago, she opened a stall in one of Denver’s seasonal street markets and began selling her finds to the public. The venture was so successful that today she and Don set up shop at up to three “shows” a month.

Her business took another turn when Sonia realized that she still had numerous items to store after the street-market season ended. She decided to turn “The Barn” into a posh boutique for the Christmas season. She sent e-mails to friends and fans announcing the first Pine Needle Creek Barn Sale. Word spread quickly and she was surprised to find that people drove miles to attend her events. That winter sale became so popular that two years ago, Sonia began holding a spring barn sale that has proven to be more popular than her holiday event.

Look for Sonia Nolta this summer at the Paris Street Markets at Aspen Grove in Littleton and 29th Street in Boulder, and the Sweet William Market in the Stapleton neighborhood. To contact this seller, send e-mail to donsonia@msn.com.

BottleHood Colorado

Justin and Melissa Livingston started BottleHood Colorado to sell their recycled glassware at various street markets around the state. Their company turns bottles, collected from neighborhood restaurants and bars, into unusual household products, keeping a glut of glass from entering landfills while making a useful and fetching conversation piece.

As I wandered among this distinctive inventory at the Sweet William Street Market, I couldn’t help but wonder about the royalty issues, since the Livingstons are upcycling branded glassware. As it turns out, the Livingstons say their business has been embraced by a number of bottle companies who endorse reusing discarded glass. The throwaways are considered public domain.

Plus, Justin Livington quips, “There’s no better publicity than people walking around with repurposed Coors or Grey Goose (bottle) glasses.”

The Livingstons work from their home and a storage unit turned studio. They consider that work — upcycling discarded raw materials — to be an emerging art form. They learn through trial and error, and they’re rife with ideas. Wind chimes, candlesticks and herb trays are projects still on the drawing board.

Polishing the cut glass to get smooth beveled edges is the most time-consuming part of the process, but it is also what makes their items so marketable. Currently they sell tall and short beverage glasses, juice glasses, vases, lamps, jewelry (made from bottle necks), and platters and serving trays hewn from whiskey crates and wine barrels.

Every weekend the two join forces with Justin’s brother, Tanner Livingston, divvy up their time, and display the glassware at three different street markets. Their displays are rustic and recycled, their prices friendly. A pair of giant tumblers is $40, a set of cocktail glasses is $30, and two juice glasses go for $20.

Look for BottleHood Colorado products at the Boulder Farmers Market, Sweet William Market, and Sunday on the Streets at the Streets of Southglenn. For a complete list of events, visit the company’s website. Or, to contact BottleHood Colorado directly: 303-648-5567 or justin@ bottlehood.com.

The Gypsy Farm Bus

The Gypsy Farm Bus is the brainchild of Katherine Cornwell, a former Denver city planner who describes her traveling garden as a “micro farmers market.” Unique to city streets, this refurbished school bus offers communities an array of heirloom, organic and local plants.

Coming from a long line of southern Indiana farmers, Cornwell says the challenging economy will prompt a return to the earth; communities where people feed their families with fresh produce from urban plantings suggestive of the victory gardens.

She is encouraged by the recent passage of the Cottage Foods Act, which allows mom-and-pop organizations to sell homemade foodstuffs. With the support of friends, a grant from Food Denver and a micro grant from C.A.F.E., Cornwell raised $25,000 to design, build and market her traveling bus and its stock of healthy plants in urban communities.

She is intent on reconnecting people with homemade/homegrown products… skills Cornwell says “we, as a society, are quickly losing.”

To contact this vendor, send an e-mail to gypsyfarmbus@gmail.com.

Barb Tobias is a Colorado blogger, speaker, author and online radio show host. Her book, “Tossed & Found: Where Frugal is Chic” (Diva Press), chronicles her journey from farm girl to fashion model to thrift-store fashionista. Read more at ThriftTalkDiva.com

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