Downtown Ithaca, New York is synonymous with sustainability.
With its concentration of existing buildings and infrastructure, the city’s walkable urban center is the most eco-friendly commercial hub in the region. This year and last, downtown Ithaca has been the recipient of $130 million dollars of smart growth, including the construction of new LEED-certified buildings, the installation of energy-efficient public utilities, and the rehabilitation of historic mixed-use properties. There is also a new city zoning package that will further encourage sustainable downtown density and reduce suburban sprawl.
Beyond geography and policy, downtown Ithaca is also an important green showcase because many of its retailers have a strong commitment to sustainable practices as well. The downtown marketplace features at least fourteen business who specialized in reused and recycled products; this is the largest such collection of reuse stores in the region. Explains Karim Beers, coordinator of the Get Your GreenBack Tompkins campaign, “The green shopping ethos is really about 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, rebuy. Making stuff is very energy intensive; it constitutes ten percent of our carbon footprint. Shopping at reuse stores means no additional energy was used. If you can’t find something used, then it’s best to buy things that were made sustainably and with recycled content.”
Stacey K. Payette is the owner of Sheldon Hill Vintage & Estate Jewelry on the Ithaca Commons. The shop specializes in affordable and elegant costume and fine jewelry from the 1800s to the 1980s. Says Payette, “I’ve been in the antiques and vintage world for over 20 years, which means I’ve been green before it was a mainstream movement. Sheldon Hill recycles not only its beautiful collection of vintage jewelry, but the history, stories, and sentiments that accompany each piece.”
Wendy Skinner is the founder and director of SewGreen, which rescues high-quality textiles, yarn, and sewing supplies from local sources and presents them for resale in a boutique environment. Skinner says her main goal is to normalize green practices: “Our merchandise is of high quality and we present it as beautifully as we can in a boutique environment so that customers see very little difference between new and not-new. We also provide free programs for teens. We teach and model sustainability – but not in an in-your-face or preachy way.”
Joe Nolan owns Home Green Home, a major exponent of the “rebuy” principle. The store offers a wide variety of home furnishings and supplies that support a healthy and ecologically-conscious lifestyle, including organic mattresses, sustainable fiber apparel, and yoga gear. Says Nolan, “Ithaca is a cutting-edge community when it comes to conscious consumption. People want products that are healthy for their family, and they want to know the ‘upstream’ impacts for farmers, workers, and ecosystems. Home Green Home exists to serve this holistic perspective.”
The DIA’s new Winter Guide, which is now available on the Commons and at major tourist attractions and information centers, includes a complete listing of merchants with a special section highlighting downtown’s other reuse stores, including Angry Mom Records, Autumn Leaves Used Books, The Vintage Industry, The Bookery, Old Goat Gear Exchange, McNeil Music, Rumble Seat Music, Ithaca Guitar Works, Pastimes, Petrune, and Trader K’s.