The large gold letters on the front of the antique brick building still advertise a "Chocolate Factory." But the goodies stocked inside these days are a lot more fun and a lot better for kids than candy. Just around the corner form Balitmore's newly refurbished Inner Harbor, the chocolate factory at 608 Water Street now houses a unique recycling center.It's chock full of industrial castoffs -- bits and pieces, odds and ends designed to spur a kid's imagination and creativity.
Called reSTORE" and run by the nonprofit Maryland Committee for Children, Inc., the center is a treasure trove of kids' craft and construction materials. On a recent visit, brightly painted drums brimmed with glittering buckles and buttons. Wooden crates buldged with scraps of foam rubber and fur, old magazines, metallic streamers, small circuit boards, plastic coated wire, and triangles of paisley print velvet fabric. Shelves overflowed with strips of patterend stick-on metallic paper, old envelopes, colored construction paper, poster board, and stencil letters. Specialty items like six foot sections of billboard paper abound. Some showed parts of faces or soda bottles, others a few letters. They were like pieces of giant's puzzles waiting to be assembled.
All this bounty should inspire young imaginations to begin dreaming up projects like faniciful mobiles, circuses full of animals, or villages of cardboard and plastic houses. But just in case small artisans need a spark to start the right wheels turning, the reSTORE staff has put together some clever examples of how materials can be used to best advantage.
There's a fairy castle, for example, with gold-paper-covered cardboard cones for turrets, cylinders for battlements, and foam blocks for bricks. Nearby sits a play house built from a large packing crate and decorated with wallpaper samples. The windows are plastic grids. The roof is shingled with thin squarees of foam rubber. In a corner of the room hangs a huge bumblebee made of plastic and construction paper. Pinned to a wall are samples of jewelry put together from paper beads, buckles and buttons. Another wall holds magazine-picture collages.
ReSTORE is one store where a super shopping spree won't gobble up a whole week's allowance. Young customers can stuff a half-size brown grocery bag full of whatever strikes their fancy for 25 cents. Adults pay $3.50 for full-size shopping bags.
Certain items carry an additional price tag: Strips of patterened reflector paper cost 10 cents; colored paper is 20 cents a pound; poster board runs 10 cents a sheet; and 30"-long heavy cardboard cylinders are 25 cents each. Although you never know exactly what merchandise will be available, discovering what's in stock is half the fun.
For adults, another bonus is enjoying the delighted reactions of youngsters when they find out just what's on hand.
We watched kids of all ages gleefully rushing about jamming their bags full of recycled riches.One 11-year-old made a beeline for the bin full of ciruit boards and then rushed off to grab a handful of metallic streamers. A broadly grinning four-year-old excitedly scooped up handfuls of half-dollar-size Styrofoam packing chips. His friend busily grabbed fistfuls of aerosal can inserts that he planned to use for constructing a train. And a worldly-wise 13-year-old (who had to be bribed with lunch at Harborplace before agreeing to trek along to the center) ended up enthusiastically collecting reflector paper to decorate her notebook, and poster board and fabric for art projects.
In addition to kids, other frequent shoppers include child-care specialists and teachers looking for materials to interest their young charges. For these professionals in the child-care field, the center runs classes in creative use of the materials available.
Baltimore is one of the few places in the country where you'll find such a resourceful use of recycled material. Boston has a similiar center associated with its Children's Museum, but it's much smaller. Baltimore's reSTORE grew out of Maryland Committee for Children's fundraising operations. The children's advocacy group is primarily interested in children's rights and the quality of day-care programs throughout the state. In addition to staff, volunteers help to run the center.
Pat Clar, reSTORE coordinator, notes that the operation relies on the cooperation of local manufacturers and businesses. "We send a truck around to some factories regularly. Others donate from time to time," she explains. About 70 businesses and industries in all keep the center supplied with treasurers: One raincoat manufacturer gave them last year's supple of plastic buttons; a medical supply company donated thousands of dollars' worth of custom-made laboratory parts that couldn't be used for their original purpose but turn out to be perfect for making make-believe rocket ships and space stations. Paper and fabric come in on a regular basis.
ReSTORE also sells crayons, paste, glue and other conventional craft supplies. Parents and teachers can pick up inexpensive booklets and instruction sheets for some of the projects displayed.