Residents of Spokane who seek to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle have a new resource of knowledge on green living and purchasing environmentally sound productsSun People Dry Goods Co.
Juliet Sinisterra, Sun People's primary owner, says her main goal for the business is to create a place where community members who are interested in living more sustainably can come to learn about the lifestyle and buy products to support it.
"They can talk to real people that live sustainably and know about things like urban chicken keeping, using fewer toxins, and producing less waste," Sinisterra says. "This is a place where people can go for those answers and get the products."
Sun People opened early last December and is located in a 3,600-square-foot space at 32 W. Second, at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Browne Street. Besides Sinisterra, the business has six other investors.
The store features a variety of products that are manufactured in facilities that have a small environmental footprint, as well as products that are designed to have a low impact on the environment when used.
"We want to be the go-to place in the region for people who want to live more ecologically," she says. "We don't want to just sell green products, we want to promote a lifestyle and way of living that we believe is richer than our traditional lifestyles of consumerism and waste."
Sinisterra says she seeks to sell products that are regionally made, such as organic cotton and wool bedding that's manufactured in a zero-waste facility by a company called Holy Lamb Organics. That company is based in the small town of Oakville, Wash., about 30 miles southeast of Olympia.
Sun People's product departments have names such as natural home, eco baby, green gardening, everyday living, and eco gifts. Its natural-home department includes organic sheets, towels, pillows, and other everyday items. Chemical-free cleaning products and soaps are some of the store's core items in its everyday living area, as well as clotheslines; Sinisterra says one big way people can reduce their energy consumption is by air-drying their clothesand not using a drying machine.
The eco-baby area features organic cotton clothing, bedding, baby toys, cloth diaper kits, and plastic products that aren't made with potentially harmful substances, such as Bisphenol A, which is commonly referred to as BPA. One vendor featured in that department, from Port Townsend, Wash., makes baby clothes out of fabric from used pieces of clothing, Sinisterra says.
The store also sells eco-friendly home improvement items and books on sustainable living practices, as well as cookware and low-energy electronics and appliances.
Other unusual products at the store are bee-keeping kits, composting bins, and locally-made backyard chicken coops. The store also sells organic seeds and seed-start kits year-round, and soon will have an outdoor gardening department in the front of the store, Sinisterra says.
"We have an eclectic inventory because we want to have people be comfortable with where they are at" as they make the transition to living with a greater concern for their impact on the environment, she says.
"We see sustainability as a broader picture; not just purchasing organic food or nontoxic cleaners and green building materialsit's all that together."
Sinisterra says she believes that, before the store opened, about 80 percent of its inventory was only available to local shoppers online.
"This makes it easier and more tangible for people who want to live this way," she says of the store's holistic approach to an ecologically-conscious lifestyle.
Sinisterra contends that Sun People's products are competitively priced with similar product vendors. She says that when pricing items, Sun People employees research what specific products are selling for on other stores' online sites. She adds, however, that some of its items, such as its organic cotton bedding, are what some customers might consider expensive.
"One-hundred percent certified organic cotton is hard to find, and it's expensive, but it's good quality so you pay for what you get there," she says. "But we have other items that are quite affordable, such as the compost pails and the cleaning products."
Since it opened, Sun People has received a lot of local attention for its employees' knowledge on urban chicken keeping, Sinisterra says. The store sells small urban chicken coops that can be used in a backyard setting, as well as organic chicken feed from a manufacturer based in Bellingham, Wash.
"We're known as the chicken experts in town," she says. "There was this hole here for people who wanted to live in an urban-homestead mentality; people who live in the city and are urban yet sophisticated and raise organic vegetables and have chickens."
Spokane's municipal code allows city residents to have a maximum of four chickens on a residential lot, including one rooster. Chickens are included in the definition of small domestic animals in the city code, which says that residents are allowed to keep a total of up to four small domestic animals and household pets, including cats and dogs.
Spokane Valley recently updated its ordinance to read that its residents can keep one chicken for every 2,000 square feet of lot space, with a maximum of 25 chickens, but no roosters.
Sinisterra says that the urban homestead trend is popular in cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Ore., but that it's been slower to take hold in Spokane.
"That is a huge culture shift that hasn't hit here yet, and we're trying to bring that here," she says. "I knew having lived this way that a lot of people here live this way, but there weren't any businesses that met that need really."
Sinisterra has a background in architecture and has designed both residential and public spaces in the Spokane area, and was the lead designer of Gonzaga Preparatory School's Barbieri Student Center. She says that about seven years ago, she became interested in green building practices, which led to her interest in sustainability.
Other community ventures focused on green living practices that Sinisterra is involved in include working on Spokane Mayor Mary Verner's Sustainability Project Citizen Task Force and co-owning and editing the Go Green Directory. That directory is published annually and is a comprehensive list of sustainable businesses and resources in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area.
Besides selling green-living products, Sun People also offers educational workshops on ecological living practices, such as organic gardening and urban chicken keeping. Some of its upcoming workshops include Chicken Keeping 101, Composting 101, and Kids Seed Starting.
The store's website, www.sunpeopledrygoods.com, includes a listing of upcoming classes, events, and general tips and information on green living, Sinisterra says.
Besides the website, Sinisterra says she's gotten the word out about the business on Facebook, Twitter, and through a few local radio and print ads. She says the store already has developed a following of some regular customers in the four months it's been open.
"I would say most of (our customers) are people that have already started taking steps toward living sustainably and see the importance of why," she says, adding that those patrons make up between 70 percent and 80 percent of the store's overall customer demographic.
One of her goals for the business is to start an e-commerce website featuring some of the store's best-selling products for out-of-town customers to purchase online.
Sinisterra says she'd also like to increase some of Sun People's community workshop offerings over the next several years.
"I want us to become more of a sustainable-living school, and want to offer more workshops for younger people to include them and boost their education" about sustainable practices, she says.
Once she's refined and perfected her inventory at the store over the next couple of years, Sinisterra says she doesn't rule out expanding the business with other locations across the Northwest.
"Both myself and the investors are interested in expanding outside of Spokane into other parts of the region," she says. Besides Sinisterra, Sun People Dry Goods employs two full- and four part-time employees.
The building in which Sun People is located recently was added to the Spokane Register of Historic Places. Built in 1917, it originally served until 1954 as the headquarters for the Washington Auto Carriage Co., says the Spokane County Historic Preservation Office.
Sinisterra says all of the materials used to build out the store are nontoxic and recycled, and that the interior of the building was sandblasted to remove decades of built-up dirt and to restore its original brickwork and wood beams.
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