Taking Junk to a New Level
Recycling and upcycling at Remix Market of Warrenton
By Amanda M. Socci
Serving the community since January 2019, The Junkluggers of Gainesville offers junk removal as an eco friendly service to help customers clear homes, basements, garages, and offices of unwanted items and clutter that can overwhelm people both physically and mentally. Their easily recognizable large, neon green trucks are a familiar sight on the roads of northern Virginia. What separates Junkluggers from other junk removal services? With Junkluggers, the clutter is not just on a one way trip to the landfill. With the goal of reducing the volume of junk that ends up in our landfills, everything they pick up is evaluated for repair, recycle, donation, or upcycling opportunities before being deemed actual trash.
Mark Harrington from Haymarket opened his franchise after specializing in business development in information technology for 20 years. “I grew bored. I took time off to investigate different business models, never intending to go into the junk business. It was recession-proof … we are a country of excess,” explained Harrington on why junk removal was the best business to get into. Impressed with all aspects of Connecticut-based The Junkluggers and particularly moved by its commitment to charitable causes, Harrington selected Mikey’s Way Foundation and Inova Children’s Hospital as the two main nonprofits to benefit from Junkluggers’ work in this community.
Picking up junk is an easy job that is priced on the volume of the pickup. Not as easy is figuring out what happens to the junk once Junkluggers picks up. Harrington has several options and engages in higher-order thinking with his staff to come up with the best disposal solution. Should they donate the junk to a deserving community partner who can breathe new life into unwanted goods? Should they responsibly recycle items at state-commissioned environment transfer stations when the useful life of junk has dried up? The answer depends on a lot of factors, including whether an item is broken, damaged or has missing parts, to name a few.
With his main goal for Junkluggers to send the least amount of junk to the landfills by recycling and donating most items, Harrington began adding a third component to his junk disposal process earlier this year. He started dipping his entrepreneurial spirit in the art of upcycling and turning garbage-bound items into beautiful and functional décor. Now, anything Junkluggers picks up may be donated, recycled, or potentially deconstructed and rebuilt into exciting new furnishings for home and office spaces.
Using the same analytical skills in determining the fate of junk picked up by Junkluggers, Harrington expanded his business with a retail store to sell upcycled items as the next logical step in the junk removal business. In April 2020, just as the nationwide pandemic began forcing business closures and causing people to stay home, Harrington quietly opened sister company, the Remix Market of Warrenton, to sell many of the unique castoffs picked up by his Junkluggers staff.
“We took an empty shell and wanted a rustic vibe … we wanted a fun and eclectic place that people wanted to come to,” beamed Harrington in describing the process of renovating a large empty warehouse space and converting it into a barn-like 5,000 square-foot visual display of refurbished furniture pieces and new creations made from junk.
Eclectic indeed. As you walk into The Remix Market on the far left of the store is the charming vinyl room, an enclosed space containing vinyl records, just some of many unusual items picked up by Junkluggers. The wide-open space features a hodgepodge of large junk and upcycled pieces treated with fresh paint and new ideas. The tables, curio cabinets, chairs, and other furniture are angled carefully, allowing narrow paths for customers to browse, touch, and admire the craftsmanship and creativity used to embellish the junk. To the far right is a small open space dedicated to the workshops. The back of the store is closed to the public, allowing Remix staff ample space to work their upcycling magic.
Surprisingly, the relationship-focused Harrington who had trained himself to favor people over things became a DIYer, literally getting his hands dirty as he taught himself to use power tools, cut, disassemble, and construct new things out of old junk. With no background in design or previous experience working with art, Harrington became an excellent chief of staff responsible for making upcycling the focal point of Remix.
However, Harrington is quick to give credit to others before himself. He hired Meghan O’Toole to manage Remix and frequently depends on her artistic eye to gauge which items should be upcycled and to what degree. Harrington also believes strongly in community involvement, ensuring that everything he does with Junkluggers and Remix benefits his local community in some way. For example, Remix hires local artists to share their talents by offering workshops. Each month, a different featured artist teaches children and adults how to upcycle items by adding new, colorful elements to things that would be normally thrown away.
Harrington feels proud to receive great feedback from the community about the work he is doing with Junkluggers. “People are receptive. They accumulate stuff over time. They feel refreshed [to get junk out of their homes]. Their stuff is treated the right way,” he noted. Now with the Remix Market open to the public, Harrington is even more excited about the future of junk. He has lofty goals to continue his mission to reduce landfill waste by increasing the quantity of things to upcycle and sell.
And he’s not stopping there. With the goal of benefiting the community always in mind, his next big project is to build planter beds in the back of Remix, hire a master gardener to help plant crops, and donate the yield to local food pantries after harvest. What will he imagine next?