Upcycled  Love

photographs by Julie Kramer

Local shops give new life to old kitchenware and cookbooks, and create community in the process.

Growing your recipe repertoire or your kitchen’s stock of tools and wares doesn’t have to cost a lot. A couple of local spots offer great deals on gently used cookbooks and kitchenware, all while providing hidden benefits to the community.

These places stand outside of the stream of stores and websites pushing the most recent trends and merch. Not that you won’t find the latest book on 101 purple-vegetable-based gluten-free vegan mocktails for your slow-masticating MicroMacro™ juicer.

But at Sally’s Treats and Treasures in Spring Grove Village and the Friends of the Public Library Warehouse in Wyoming, you’re also likely to stumble on old knowledge, tried-and-tested tools and techniques—and, best of all, others like yourself. Take time to peruse these hidden local gems and discover how wallet-friendly re-retail therapy brings surprising social gains.

A Smorgasbord for your Brain
I hadn’t seen lawyer and inveterate gardener Mike O’Neill at my library (the Mercantile, downtown Cincinnati) for some time, which was weird because he’s a voracious reader. “I found this amazing bookstore,” O’Neill explained when he eventually came in, “in this warehouse out near Hartwell.”

Last year, O’Neill says, finding himself blessed with a bumper crop of cucumbers, he went looking for ways to use them. In the process he stumbled into the Friends of the Public Library Warehouse, at 8456 Vine Street in Wyoming. Right off the bat, he found three cookbooks on making pickles alone. O’Neill ponied up about a buck-fifty apiece, hurried home, and got down to pickling.

The Friends of the Public Library is both a nonprofit organization and an army of about 2,000 volunteers and supporters. They’ve converted a former car dealership into a facility for sorting and storing used books—both Public Library discards and donations from downsizers’ bookshelves. These, in turn, they resell to raise funds for programming at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. If you’re a book lover in this city, you know them best for the book sale they stage every June at the Main Library, downtown.

I meet Friends of the Public Library executive director Anne Keller and volunteer Barbara Heldman in the sorting room at the front of the warehouse. The Friends receive between 10,000 and 12,000 books a week, Keller says, as we watch book-filled bins being dollied in from a truck docked out back. Weeding is as essential to libraries as it is to well-tended gardens, so many of these bins contain library discards. But a good percentage comes from donations from the community at large.

Heldman and another volunteer, semiretired publisher and avid cookbook collector Fred Warren, specialize in sorting incoming cookbooks. Warren points to a mountain of books that dwarfs the others: books about cooking, diet, and food. Broken into the same subcategories as the public library—from “Baking” and “Breads” to “US Regional” and “Vegetarian,” with every cuisine in between, Warren calculates that the approximately 60 linear feet of shelf space holds about 2,000 volumes, more than on any other topic.

There’s an even mix of recent works and rarer, community-specific works—including plenty of what Heldman calls “church lady cookbooks.” “For example, Best Recipes of the First Presbyterian Church,” she says. “We have so many of those spiral books, and they’re really, really good, because people gave their best recipes, which usually means their fail-safes.”

All these discarded cookbooks beg the question: Why, in this age of the internet and tablets, own a cookbook in the first place?

A printed book, unlike your iPad, won’t go bust when you spill on it, for starters. You can make notes, underline, jot down ways to modify recipes. A dusting of flour? Wet fingers? No problem!
But Warren thinks there’s more to it than that. “I think that people relate to cookbooks differently,” he says. “When you’re looking at a blog, you’re getting a recipe, but with a cookbook, you’re also getting a person and a personality. Sometimes, in addition to a recipe, people want to get the feel of another part of the world. Or they want cultural background and cultural history.”
Also, they look nice.

And the sale of these cookbooks contributes to the $225,000 to $227,000 that Keller says the Friends annually raise. The lion’s share of these funds go to programming, especially the library’s summer reading program—which doubles as a summer feeding program, providing meals to underfed kids in the community. The Main Library and about 24 branches cooperate with Cincinnati Public Schools to fill a seasonal food gap for some kids when school’s out. The Friends also advocate for libraries at the legislative level by underwriting a lobbyist at the Ohio Statehouse. With the state and federal funding on which libraries rely in the cross-hairs for budget cuts, equal access to resources, technology, and education are under threat.

As Mike O’Neill discovered, you don’t need to wait for the Friends’ big summer sale to get at this trove of cookbooks and contribute to a good cause. The warehouse is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. They host smaller pop-up sales throughout the year and sell both online and at the Friends shop on the downtown library’s mezzanine. Visit Friends.CincinnatiLibrary.org for more information.

A Room witha Slew of Kitchen Tools
“Sally was the person who believed in me and encouraged my smart-aleck nature,” says Laura Kristal of her grandmother, the inspiration and namesake behind her gently used cookware shop in Spring Grove Village. “She would say, ‘Let’s go to the rummage,’ and could go to any estate sale and find the one really true thing that was of value.”    

But while Sally’s Treats and Treasures’ wall-to-wall stock of secondhand cookware, kitchen gadgets, tools, furniture, cookbooks, and, well, you name it, makes for a fun and productive rummage, it’s about more than that. Kristal has set out to create a “community center for cooks,” she says, a space for people to tell stories, exchange recipes, and enjoy food and company.

The current Spring Grove Village location—she plans to open a second location on Hamilton Avenue in Northside—has a history of food and community. It occupies the antique, inlaid-wood parlor where two Greek families, the Christos and the Drivakis, once made and sold candy and ice cream. Those names still stand over the Epworth Avenue entrance. A bar, booths, and stools still line the room where the hard-working families of Winton Place once indulged their sweet teeth.
“This place makes people tell stories,” says Kristal. For now, Sally’s is only open on Saturdays, and while some cooks and die-hard collectors come to shop in earnest, others hang out, chat, and enjoy the pie that Kristal provides. She has plans to add a kitchen serving healthy carryout food in the spirit of her friend Myra Griffin, whose much-missed vegetarian-friendly Dionysus café was a healthy Clifton Heights cornerstone for 37 years.

When Kristal first bought property in Northside in the early 1990s, abandoned storefronts were still common there, and the experience made her aware that strong neighborhoods need spaces that support community within a walkable environment. She envisioned opening a secondhand shop akin to what her grandmother, Sally, once dreamed of owning. But that vision evolved as her own health struggles and those of friends pushed her toward an enterprise that supports home cooks and budding young chefs, helping to keep down the cost of making healthy food.

There’s an entire wall of steeply discounted KitchenAids and Cuisinarts. Brightly hued vintage Pyrex and Farberware nest near towers of All-Clad and Le Creuset. It’s like time-traveling through the history of cookware and kitchen design: Corning, Chantal, Pyrex, Nordic Ware, Tupperware, enamelware; gadgets like bread makers, juicers, and rice cookers.
Whether they’re vintage or almost new, all items are clean and in immaculate shape. And cookbooks? You better believe there are cookbooks.
“I’m trying to put together the most complete collection that I can for the Cincinnati cook,” says Kristal. She shows me one of her favorite cookbooks: Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals: The New Indian Cuisine for Fearless Cooks and Adventurous Eaters, a book very much after my own heart. Looking at that great filmmaker’s cookbook, I realize how food and recipes connect to storytelling.  

Every object in the room has a story to tell. While giving new use and life to them certainly prevents waste and saves materials, money, and energy, the stories concealed in these things connects people to each other, gives us purpose—and most of all, helps us realize our potential. Whether you walk away with a previously loved collectible or a much-needed tool—bought secondhand and on the cheap—you also walk away with a story and an experience much deeper than that of merely shopping.     

At Sally’s Treats and Treasures, surrounded by Kristal’s artful arrangements of functional objects, you can take a seat and, over the whatever baked good she has to offer that week, you’ll enjoy the company of other cooks. This is how communities are born. And because of them, we’re wiser.

Stop in on Saturdays between noon and 6 p.m., or call for an appointment. The rest of the week, Kristal is on the hunt, combing auctions and estate sales with an eye for what her regulars—or the next new friend who jingles the bells on Sally’s door—might want.
Visit WhereCooksMeet.com to find sneak peaks of recent finds, including vintage ware and cookbooks, and sign up for the shop’s newsletter.

Move On

Give books and kitchen tools a new lease on life by digging them out of the basement and letting them find new love.

Sally’s Treats & Treasures 
Store owner Laura Kristal buys in bulk and is ready to help give hardly used kitchen tools and cookbooks a new home. If you need to downsize or sell Mom’s cookie cutter collection call Laura or visit the store on Saturdays.
701 E Epworth Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45232

Friends of the Public Library 
Donate your used books to help feed kids in the summer and support efforts to secure state funding for libraries.
8456 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH 45216

Ever since his grandfather put him to work squashing potato bugs and shoveling compost in a vast organic garden north of Philadelphia, Cedric has loved the outdoors. These days, he squashes bugs for his green-thumbed partner, Jen. His writing has appeared in Saveur, Cincinnati, This Old House, and Belt magazines. He is the Collector at the Mercantile Library Downtown.