As Mari Ann Weiss-Cater sat behind the desk in her resale shop Urban Remix Consignments, she looked through the photographs of her chocolate Labrador Dexter on her phone, his bed sitting behind her, and explained, “He’s like our own Walmart greeter.”
When entering Urban Remix,located at 1468 S. Michigan Ave., customers are greeted with a trickling water fountain and burst of color as they step into the shop. Wooden tribal masks and local art adorn the walls. Mirrors too decorate the walls and lean against pillars. Elegant furnishings are arranged like a modern living room, and chandeliers welcome guests from a high ceiling.
“When I first opened the shop, I had a chandelier without a tag,” Weiss-Cater said as she pointed to the chandelier above the door, sparkling in the light. “My friends all told me I had to put a tag on it because I had to pay the rent. I ended up keeping it.”
Weiss-Cater said she reinvented herself when she opened her shop in July 2011 after 25 years working for a corporation.
Gail Merritt, founder of the alliance, said, “It’s a great establishment. The whole purpose of the business is to reuse, which is wonderful.”
As a consignment shop, Urban Remix takes in gently used home furnishings, cleans them up and tries to give them a new home.
According to 2005 EPA estimates, 8.8 million tons of furniture have ended up in U.S. landfills.
Weiss-Cater said she was raised to think green. As a child, her family recycled and composted as well as tended to a garden.
“All of my bags and tissue paper are recycled, and I reuse when I am able to,” said Weiss-Cater.
Her most notable green effort is in the shop’s mission itself. The slogan, “Reuse, redesign, refresh!” refers to the furniture that is salvaged.
Urban Remix does not accept just any furnishings in need of a home, however. Weiss-Cater said she handpicks the items that appear in her store, adding to what she calls its “eclectic” style.
“My customers have a wide range of tastes and come from a wide range of places,” said Weiss-Cater.
The items in her shop vary, from an enlarged Audrey Hepburn photograph behind the front desk to leopard print chairs at the front of the shop.
Urban Remix also features local art lining the walls, with short biographies of the artists underneath. Weiss-Cater said she enjoys helping local artists.
Weiss-Cater also donates any unsold items to the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago Inc. According to the organization’s website, this non-profit group is “committed to serving the cultural, psychological and socio-economic needs of refugees and immigrants in and around metropolitan Chicago.”
Weiss-Cater said, “I went looking for a different organization. After speaking with this group, I felt that they truly needed my services.”
Urban Remix has become a gathering spot for community members since its opening in 2011, said South Loop resident Judith Jaffe, a frequent customer.
“It has a lot to do with the ambiance,” said Jaffe. “It’s really just a wonderful place in the neighborhood for people to congregate, or say hello to Mari Ann.”
Weiss-Cater said she welcomes dogs in the shop and places a water bowl outside in the summer. She also hosts quarterly parties for frequent customers to come together.
“It’s like an old country store, where people gather and get to know one another,” said Jaffe.
As customers came and went one recent afternoon, Weiss-Cater took the time to welcome each person with a smile and simple conversation. Manal and Sami Alhammad, first-time customers, said the shop looked interesting and decided to have a look. Although they wandered in searching for a lamp, their visit ended with a chat with the owner.
“Mari Ann is so gracious and wonderful,” said Joan Schenk, a resident of the South Loop and a frequent customer of Urban Remix. “She educates you every time you walk into her store.”
Schenk said she discovered Urban Remix in August 2011 when a black and white chest in the shop caught her eye. Schenk has now become a regular customer and friend of Weiss-Cater.
“Why do I come here? I love it!” said Schenk, “This is my oasis, in the art, the furniture and Mari Ann.”
Mari Ann is not alone, however. Her son Nathaniel Cater, a student at Columbia College Chicago, runs the store on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while his mother looks for new pieces for the store. They also work side-by-side part of the week.
“I think he saw how hard I was working, and said, ‘Why don’t we put a schedule together for the two of us?’” said Weiss-Cater.
Cater is a senior at Columbia, studying music composition and marketing. Weiss-Cater said her son is a tremendous help at the shop when he is not in class and has a knack for staging furniture.
“One of the goals of my business was to help raise my son, but with a social conscience,” said Weiss-Cater.
This idea led to Urban Remix. Weiss-Cater said she believes her items were once someone’s treasure, and it’s wonderful that they can still be someone else’s.
“These pieces would probably end up in a landfill because people have no outlet,” said Weiss-Cater. “But what happened with the recession – people are more educated consumers now.”