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Read-uce, reuse and Recycle: Festival of Books vendor turns old books into custom journals

red-barn
Courtesy Brooke Ellis | The Daily Wildcat Red Barn Collections is a company that makes personalized journals out of discarded books. They have been vending at the Tucson Festival of Books for several years.

Something old to something new! Red Barn Collections will be at the Tucson Festival of Books this year. They take old discarded books and recreate them as unique journals to sell. 

Brooke Bowen, co-owner of Red Barn Collections with her husband Ben Bowen, loves old books and has fond memories of her collections as a child.

Bowen said one day her mom asked her what to do with her large collection of old books and she said she was going to recycle them. “And that’s when I met my now husband and we got the street permit to turn them into something else,” Bowen said.

Bowen and her husband made $80 on their first street booth. They took those dollars and set up at a farmer’s market and then a flea market. 

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Now they both work full time with four full time workers and are able to travel, selling their unique “upcycled” notebooks. It will be their sixth year in business and fourth year at the Festival of Books. 

“[The Festival of Books] is one of our favorites. It really helped me with our business,” Bowen said.

The Festival of Books played a pivotal role in the early business, according to Bowen.

“That was the first festival we’ve ever done and the reception there by the attendees that are readers and writers and love books, it inspired us,” Bowen said. “Because that was early on when we first started. It was one of the largest shows we’d ever done. We couldn’t believe that we had saved up the money because it costs a lot more than a $50 farmers market and traveled all the way out of the state.”

From the first Festival of Books, Bowen and his team were able to advance their business from a small start-up to where it is today.

“It was a big turning point for us and it gave us a lot of confidence to do other shows.” Bowen said. “We did well enough to look forward as to how we could keep growing the business and bring something for people who love books so much.”

Abby Herman, who does content marketing for local business Write Solutions, is a frequent customer of Red Barn Collection’s journals and said she loves to support small family businesses like Red Barn Collections. 

“I used to be a school librarian and an elementary teacher and so the idea of having books used as journals is just super unique,” Herman said. “When I saw them, I thought they would make unique gifts for my clients.”

Finding the books is the biggest process said Bowen. The first step is curating a really good collection. They go to old estate sales for vintage books, thrift stores, college book stores, library sales, school sales, recycling centers and non-profit processing centers like Goodwill. 

“We take a lot of consideration into what we collect because you can find a lot of books but it’s finding those books that are nostalgic, that people remember, that there’s something about it that brings you joy when you find it and you know that someone is going to love it,” Bowen said.

One of the unique things that Red Barn Collections does is disassemble the books but keep the entire content of children stories and book chapters to divide three sections within the journal.

“For example, ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ You know, we’ve picked out certain chapters that we think are really good like a ‘Tempest in the School Teapot,’” Bowen said. Sometimes it varies but they do a lot of research to know which chapters to keep, especially with Harry Potter books.

Red Barn Collections doesn’t just use fiction books. Nonfiction, vintage books and even board games also end up as covers.

“Some of my favorite books are old textbooks. Like we’ll find a random old Italian textbook from the 50s and you take out different lessons and put it in the journal,” Bowen said.

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For popular stories like “The Giving Tree” and “The Little Prince,” “we keep the whole story in it” Bowen said.

Herman said she always buys “The Giving Tree” because it was one of her favorite books as a kid and she sends them to her clients. She also often tries to send her clients their favorite books if they’re available. 

“One of the things about a festival, particularly a book festival, is you just don’t get the same experience as when you go to a website or Instagram because we go down with 1,500 journals,” Bowen said. “They’re all different and to touch them and feel them and to smell them and jut open them up and see the inscriptions inside or the old library cards, it’s just an experience that you can’t replicate online.”


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (9/27)
1,051 36 3.4%
Total (8/4)
36,634 2,291 6.3%
Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated September 27, 2020