Green gurus

New Uptown store Twin Cities Green specializes in socially responsible, environmentally friendly products

Consider your laundry detergent. Are you aware of what goes into each bottle? Where is it made? Does the manufacturer believe in fair trade and workers’ rights?

Many people can’t answer those questions about any product in their homes, let alone their laundry detergent. But Twin Cities Green, a new eco-friendly concept shop at 2405 Hennepin Ave., hopes to break the cycle of consumer ignorance.

Big chains like Target and Wal-Mart may have a few aisles dedicated to green products, said Tina North, who co-owns the store with her husband Ryan, but they’re often made overseas and not guaranteed free trade and sweatshop-free.

From natural wood baby teethers and dog beds stuffed with recycled plastic bottles to furniture made from fallen trees and home composting kits with worm vouchers, North promises that
every item sold in their store is made from natural or recycled content.

"We’re just hoping to bring awareness to other options," said North, who has spent thousands of hours searching the Internet for eco-friendly manufacturers. "You don’t just have to buy the mass-produced stuff."

Rather than simply asking how much something costs, the Norths encourage their customers to question a product’s background, contents and environmental impact. We love finding stuff that you could break up and compost in your garden, North said.

Homegrown goods

In an attempt to cut back on the fuel used to ship products, much of the couple’s merchandise comes from suppliers in the U.S. and Canada. They shrink their carbon footprint even more by selling goods from roughly 40 makers in the Twin Cities metro area.

During a recent visit to the shop, Amy Palmer, an artist from Wisconsin, stopped by to drop off jewelry and pictures frames that she created using bits of recycled glass and beads. "I find lots of my stuff at garage sales," she said.

The stores’ selection is constantly changing based on who’s contributing, North explained. She and her husband have built many connections with local artists due to the success of Re Gifts, their environmentally friendly gift shop at 42nd Street and Cedar Avenue.

One nearby artist makes small, stylish pillows for $19.95, using samples of designer fabric and recycled stuffing. Another local maker creates rustic furniture by welding vintage tools onto pieces of wood. His pieces run from $650–$950.

"You pay a little bit more for these things," North said, but "prices will shift based on what people want."

Tina started out as a green artist making crafts for Phones ‘n Things in Roseville. She originally wanted to open a store in which she and Ryan would create all of their own products. "I can make Scrabble earrings," she laughed, "but that’s about it." Instead, they decided to run with the green theme and rely on others to provide the goods.

A prime location

The Norths are jazzed about the store’s location in the heart of Uptown.

We were originally looking for a space on East Hennepin Avenue in Northeast, Tina said, but one day they noticed a for-rent sign plastered across the old Via’s Vintage Wear establishment. They weren’t sure they could afford the space but decided to go for it anyway.

Over the past four months, the Norths have remodeled the 3,400-square-foot store with a floor made from recycled tires, walls covered in paint with low levels of toxic ingredients, and compact fluorescent lighting overhead. They hired local artist Tamantha Miller to create a matching outdoor billboard and indoor wall framed with old doors and shutters.

Tucked away in the rear of the store, the Norths have arranged a comfy research den where customers can check out the top 50 eco-websites and green publications and post notices on a bulletin board. They are collaborating with Do It Green! Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based organization that publishes a guide to all things green in the Twin Cities. Eventually, the groups hope to hold in-store workshops and presentations to educate the public about eco-friendly living.

With two stores to run, the Norths expect to be busy. Tina’s mother has agreed to manage Re Gifts while the couple and their sole employee focus on getting Twin Cities Green on its feet.

Luckily, the 33-year-olds, who met as actors in the interactive "Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding," are passionate about their cause. "We’re avid recyclers who believe that the environment is being destroyed bit by bit," North said. "[Twin Cities Green] is the place we would want to shop."

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.