The Indigo Hippo thrift store makes art accessible to everyone

Whether it’s a tube of glitter, a bag of fabric, or a box of crayons that haven’t been touched since high school art class, most people have a few art supplies they don’t use.

Walk in Indigo Hippo, the thrift shop for art supplies from across the Rhine. The association collects donations of art supplies and resells them so that they are accessible to all types of artists. There are supplies for almost every artistic discipline. However, it is rare to find a fixed price.

The items cost between half and a quarter of their retail price, said Emily Farison, the store’s executive director. But all items are marked in a “pay what you can” range.

“As a customer, you participate in deciding what you can afford and what you would like to pay on this sliding scale,” Farison said. “All in the hope that everyone can get the creative materials they need.”

Once customers have finished selecting their items – whether it’s a pencil from the plethora available in the store’s sunny window or a ball of yarn on the rainbow-sorted shelf or even wood and screws from the pile against the wall – they are asked how much they would like to pay. Most store items are defined in four price ranges: five cents to the dollar, $1 to $3, $3 to $6, and $6 to $9.

Julia Lipovsky, the store manager, has many conversations with customers about the value they want to place on items.

“You get to know people better when you browse what they want to pay, or you also learn what they’re working on,” Lipovsky said.

From unused to used

Since 2016, Indigo Hippo has diverted approximately 141,000 pounds of waste from landfills, according to the racing sign found on the shop wall.

And the inventory is constantly changing, and donations are coming in from all over. Farison said the shop sometimes gets a permanent collection, including vintage items that can be hard to find elsewhere. Other times they receive a surplus of an item from a factory, or a moving student drops off all their supplies. (The store is open for donations Tuesday and Wednesday, and people wishing to drop off items can schedule a time at indigohippo.org.)

Inside Indigo Hippo on July 7, 2022.

“Our goal is to get materials into the hands of people who can use them, keeping them out of the waste stream,” Farison said.

And people use them. Customers come to get things for all kinds of projects. Cosplay costumers, designers, embroiderers, rompers. Others choose to order their items online, where a curated selection of products is listed.

While the store has many regulars who come for specific things – like the woman who brings her own stools to sit on and go through all the rubber stamps the store has in stock – there are plenty of people who just come for inspiration.

Inside Indigo Hippo on July 7, 2022.

When Cincinnati resident Andy Kite first walked into the store, he hadn’t done anything creative in a while and was thrilled to find a small flower pot to work with.

Others come from afar to visit the store.

Clients Amy Spudic and Lisa Cooreman came from Indianapolis. Spudic works at a community center and makes craft kits for children, and Cooreman is an art teacher and artist. In Spudic’s basket were labels for the pantry she manages and old film canisters that she was very excited about because they could be used for Alka-Seltzer rockets. Cooreman was collecting wire and Poly-Fil pillow stuffing material for a camp she teaches.

The two had discovered a basket of old records, small and shiny, cut at an angle on each side, and were considering their use.

Indigo Hippo, 1334 Main St., Over-the-Rhine. 513-918-4917, indigohippo.org.

Amy Spudic and Lisa Cooreman traveled from Indianapolis to visit Indigo Hippo on July 7, 2022.

Laura J. Boyer