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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Progress in the South Park area of San Diego exemplifies a creative, fun atmosphere where customers buy fun, unique gifts

Story and photos by Emily “Ms. Parmigiani” Anderson

Progress. Noun. 1. A moving forward or onward. 2. Forward course; development. 3. Advance toward perfection or to a higher or better state; improvement. 4. An official journey, as of a sovereign.

Progress isn’t just a noun (and verb) in the Webster’s New World dictionary, and it’s not just an eco-centered store in the South Park area of San Diego run by friendly owners. It’s a way of life for husband and wife Bruce and Christy Jaynes, at least in the area of trendy design.

Amidst the greeting cards that are printed with soy-based inks (some are printed on an antique printing press) and the fabulous light red couch near one of the two entrances, the rectangular-shaped store with high, warehouse-like ceilings is filled with eclectic home goods that are fun and unique. The store is located at located at 2225 30th Street, Suite 1, San Diego, Calif. Their Web site is progresssouthpark.com.

Holiday decorations dangle from small beams that hang from the ceiling. Links of red and white felt are cuffed together creating a long series of strings; each string dips down toward the floor to create a U-shape. The beams travel in a rectangular shape, mimicking the shape of the store. Red felt heart cutouts and white felt snowflake cutouts hang intermittently between each U-shaped felt link. Christy and Bruce made these by hand during family time at a Sunday dinner with Bruce’s mom.

Bruce and Christy try to steal away from the whole idea of mass-produced products because they like that good, cool, classic designs aren’t always coming from big box stores; their thoughts are eminent in the tangible items for sale in their store. Even the fact that their fun winter felt decorations are hand-made meshes well with their whole get-away-from-mass-produced-products stance.

“The whole trend of getting furniture out quickly and mass-produced furniture is now slowing down again,” Bruce says. “People are making more hand-crafted pieces and people are more willing to take a little bit (longer) to make the stuff and also to get it, wait for it; much like in the slow food movement, like when people locally harvest things. They take longer to make.

“It’s like that in furniture. I like the fact that lots of different outside materials are being used that people aren’t accustomed to, like the lamps that we have (that are made) out of cardboard…”

Not only are cardboard-made lamps rare, people don’t see fabulous, eco-designed furniture every day. Comfortable seating exists in the store. The two gray seats, located near the street-facing window, gray couch in the center of the store, and red couch near one of the two exists are for sale. All are made by BKind3.The red couch is mid-century modern, according to Bruce. Christy says the foam of the cushions is soy-based and the actual covering, or fabric, of the couch is made of recycled cotton. It’s comfortable and costs $1,120, but it’s fabulous. The red couch is so fabulous that if this inanimate object could speak it would say, Sit down. Come in. Relax.

Bkind3 operates in North Carolina and Bruce says this company reweaves, re-dyes and recycles the fabric. He says most sofas in general are made with petroleum-based foam, fiberglass and dyes – products that are not environmentally friendly.

Every nook and cranny of the store is nicely decorated and the ambience is very relaxing and cozy. On display on the table in front of the red couch are miniature cardboard cutouts of lounge chairs and people – which are part of the Modern Play Family created by the M.o.m.a. company (Museum of Modern Art).

About a dozen books are for sale on a table, each showcasing furniture or architecture designs. The cover of 1,000 new eco designs and where to find them by Rebecca Proctor feels it’s made of soft, slightly worn down cardboard.

Lunch packs are on display on shelves in between the greeting card displays. Each bag is made of cloth with a cute butterfly print. The lunch pack includes a reusable water bottle and a cloth napkin. Near these packs lie a gardening book, thick with pages about gardening in various spaces and composting methods.

Incredibly soft, colorful cashmere scarves lie sweetly in a nook by the exit nearest the cash register. The scarves are made from recycled cashmere sweaters by Ann Made Candles and come in varying colors. The tag reads that the scarves are made from 100 percent recycled fabric, in which the company dubs each scarf their Eco Scarf. Bruce likes the idea of calling Ann up anytime. She is located in Burbank, Calif. And while most of Progress’s products aren’t actually made in California, he likes how convenient and cool it is to call Ann up and he thinks the recycled cashmere sweater scarves is a genius idea.

But why does Progress have an environmentally-oriented theme for a store that’s been in business for three months? Bruce says thinking of selling environmental products was a by-product of his and Christy’s original vision. He says that since many environmental products already exist, he wanted to continue with this whole idea. Although he says purchasing eco-friendly products isn’t necessarily the first criteria when they order products from vendors (he likes to fill the store with affordable items for everyday people) he and Christy definitely consider if an item is made with a fair trade company or with minimal environmental damage.

The items for sale aren’t just for composting gardening gurus or environmental interior designers. Eclectic, fun products are for sale. For example, a table near the red couch offers red felt table placemats for sale, mimicking the stencil cutouts hanging above, made from Kikkerland. Cups and saucers are for sale, as are candles, and cloth dishtowels. This display table normally isn’t full of holiday presents, Bruce says, but explains that during January the holiday gifts will diminish. The wooden table that carries the placemats and saucers, and the simple wooden stools underneath this display table are made by Mash Studios located in Venice Beach, Calif. The tables are showcased in the L.A.X. line. A large bookshelf with 16 shelf spaces stands against a wall and is made by Mash Studios. While the L.A.X. wooden table and bookshelf house more products for sale, these are also for sale.

Many items are made with a small carbon footprint. For example, one group of items made with minimal environmental impact is the greeting cards. There are many of them and all come with their own envelope. Some are made by eggpress.com and hammerpress.net. Some are funny, some are serious. But most are printed with soy-based inks, using an antique printing press.

One card has a white background, with a picture of a pile of black eye glasses. A red heart is in the pile and in it are white letters that read “looking good.” It was printed by hand in Portland, Oregon on recycled paper by eggpress.com, according to the back. Other cards, some of which are made by hammerpress.net, also dictate where they were printed or at least read in small letters that it was printed with soy-based ink and to urge the purchaser to recycle.

And how did Progress receive its name?

Not only do the Jaynes’ like the cool cards, they like the way they’re progressing into the design world. Bruce seems to know a lot about design. Christy and Bruce like to purchase products from local artists if possible and from companies that design things with as minimal environmental impact as possible, especially trendy, unique products, although some things are made in China, as is commonplace with most goods.

“I wanted to exemplify and sort of expose to San Diegans …design that is out there that perhaps isn’t here yet and also to show a little bit more to people in our area,” Bruce says. “There’s a lot of cool design right now. I think there’s a good renaissance right now in American design, particularly in New York. Designs that are coming out of there are amazing and similar to what has happened in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. So Progress to me means, this is a progress report, so to speak, of what’s going on in the design field…”

Even simply designed items appeal to the Jaynes’ and customers. For example, on the same display table as the scarves are simple bracelets, each with a thin black band, which mimics thin hair ties. A tiny silver piece with a word imprinted on it is in the center of every band. One says “writer,” another “dreamer,” another “singer,” another “lover,” another “soul.” Each one costs $10 and would make the perfect gift for a child or an adult. Fun owl necklaces are on sale near the register, which are made of etched bamboo; bamboo is a fast-growing renewable resource.

On the next table over, which is supported by two wooden sawhorses, whoopee cushions are for sale, as is Pick Up Stix, and matchboxes, each with a different design. For example, one matchbox has a sketch of the stars and a compass. And each whoopee cushion box is made out of recycled cardboard, by Ridley’s House and costs $4.99. This table has another smaller table on top of it, made from the pages of magazines and newspapers, so it fulfills a dual purpose of functionality and art. On this table are things such as a small 50-year calendar and a plastic box filled with cards for conversation ideas, called Table Topics: Questions to Start Great Conversations. This mini magazine table on the larger table holds “will return” clocks – the type of clocks with the red clock hands employers often use to display when an employee will be back from a break. Kitchen timers, mini zippered coin pouches, and a “Solar Queen” are on this table. The Solar Queen is an old woman figurine, dressed in a pink dress. The packaging says that if she’s placed in the sun, she’ll wave to you. And on the bigger table below the magazine table are basic cloth wallets that fold in half once. Each wallet has a bicycle design, a bird design, a piano design or a camera design, mimicking art work. These are made with Eco Canvas by Fluffy Co.

Even below a display cabinet lie two hand-woven, blue baskets made from India by a company called Roost. And this basket is below a small display table which displays Oishi Dolls. These dolls come in five characters – Gail, Thomas, Bruce, Clark and Dolce – and are alarm clocks that are pillows that are squeezable to continue snoozing, but Progress doesn’t carry all of the Oishi characters, and Gail seems to be a Progress best seller. Oran Elmaleh and his wife created the Oishi Dolls company and they chose to have some of their items sold in Progress because they love Progress and the Jaynes’ love their product.


“Progress captures the essence of trendy designs so it was a perfect market,” Elmaleh says.

Elmaleh says that each Oishi Doll is slightly different because sometimes recycled buttons or leftover cloth scraps are used to create the dolls.

Customers

Sarah Curley, a customer, shopped at Progress on Saturday December 11 with daughter Anna in tow and baby Will. Anna, 8, said her favorite animals are horses and she was drawn to fun, small pillows in the shape of animals, with animal colorings. For example, the Zebra pillow was shaped like a Zebra and had the same colors as one.

Curley stayed in the store for a while, eventually purchasing many presents. Curley enjoyed many things, as evident by her smiles. She likes the originality of everything.

“It seems like things are handmade and more natural.”

When Christy packed Curley’s purchases in bags, she was kind enough to walk the bags to the front of the counter to give them to Curley, further emphasizing her outgoing nature.

Regina Herod-Thompson and her husband Richard and their daughter shopped at Progress the same day as Sarah Curley. Regina and her daughter browsed through the books on the book display table for awhile as Richard played with gadgets on the other display table, like the 50-year calendar. He was fascinated by it, holding it close to his face to read the small numbers better.

Regina liked the Brooklyn Modern book – an architecture design book.

“I like stores like this that are dedicated to repurposing the world’s waste,” she said. “It’s very nice though. I like what’s happening in here. There are lots of shops popping up with reclaimed stuff.”

Favorites

What is Bruce’s favorite item? He really loves the Afghan rugs. He first saw these rugs being made by Afghani people at a Los Angeles Gift Show earlier this year. He was fascinated by the lengthy process in which it took to make one rug. He and his wife sell these rugs from between $99 and $129, but as of December 15, hadn’t been selling well.

Bruce says Christy’s favorite item is perhaps the seed bomb packet. These are wildflower seeds that can be thrown anywhere - from sidewalk cracks to medians - to make wildflowers grow in small spaces or anywhere they are thrown. Bruce says:
“It’s just a neat way of beautifying the environment, covertly if you wish. It’s like the Johnny Appleseed, but with flowers.”

Bruce says the seed bomb packets are sort of an eco-terrorism way of beautifying small spaces.

The difference

Why did the Jaynes’ choose to open their business in South Park, the little gem of an area often overshadowed by Hillcrest and North Park? Bruce feels South Park is more “educationally affluent, if that makes sense. People seem to be aware of things. I think any product that sort of resonates with that we want to carry.”

Progress truly embodies a different type of business, a business in which their aesthetic look is different and a business in which the owners actually care to interact with customers and the community. For example, Bruce and Christy have decided that on a quarterly basis they will donate 15 percent of their proceeds from one day of business to Albert Einstein Academies, a nearby charter school south of their store. Since Progress has been open a short time, only 15 percent of the sales from one day of business has been donated so far. This helps support the school and potentially brings parents of the school children in to Progress. It’s a win-win situation.

“We’re a little different,” Bruce later explains. “There are stores that are exclusively mid-century modern, (like here in South Park). I like to incorporate that and bring in some other things as well. So, we’re kind of a …” Bruce pauses and laughs. “What are we? We’re a potpourri, a mix of things at the moment. We may be bringing in things that have been (around) but nothing has been shown in this type of collection before. We’re rearranging the collection essentially.”

My thoughts

There’s something so sweet, so majestic-like, when perusing through a store in which I know the brief history behind a few of the products, histories like where certain fabrics came from, the brand name or how the items were made. It’s like I’m taking part in this subtle way. I’m taking a small but important part in being in a store that sells its items from reclaimed materials. And although the environmental minimal impact approach wasn’t an original forethought in the minds of Bruce and Christy, but rather a by-product of their original vision, Progress is truly a special store.

Bruce is sometimes skeptical with the whole green term, as not all green companies actually reduce harm to the environment. He says that designers of eco-conscious products must be prepared to answer questions because people will want to know or are already beginning to ask about how products are made.

Bruce says that people usually think of an item’s cost and if it’ll look good in their home or wherever they’d place the item. But for him, it’s different. It’s ironic; in a good way, that now they sell environmentally friendly products that are cool, trendy and affordable.

“I mean, the main thing is: Is it good design?” he says, “and (secondly), is it, will it be at a price point that is affordable? Is it fair? I could pack this place with really expensive stuff, but it’s not for everybody. I have to find stuff that’s more for the common person.”

Bruce reflects upon the price of an item, how the item is made, and how long an item will take to arrive at his store when determining which vendors to contact.

In a way, Progress isn’t only progressive as far as showcasing an eclectic display of designs. It’s also a seemingly subtle statement from the Jaynes’ in which they sell items that are progressively made and well made.

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