This Berkeley ‘wonderland’ of a shop imagines a second life for trash, as art

Frida Godoy in her store, Reuse Arts and Crafts. Photo: Eden Teller

BERKELEYSIDE — Reuse Arts and Crafts is a small storefront, easy to miss while driving down San Pablo Avenue. But for a passerby strolling along the sidewalk, a glance through the doorway reveals a wonderland of art and crafting materials.

Frida Godoy is the artist and business owner responsible for the fantastical creations, which range from ornate mirrors lined with watch faces to eight-foot-tall papier mache giraffes which cozy up to shelves lined with hundreds of recycled art materials. Wood scraps, colorful beads, and a medley of unglazed ceramic cups line one side of the shop; an aisle of foot-tall metal letters and plastic children’s toys leads visitors towards a small library tucked at the back of the store.

Godoy’s passion for art and environmentalism has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. The environmentalism at the core of Reuse’s mission is partially inspired by her five grandchildren and her drive to safeguard the planet for the next generation.

“We have to imagine a second life for these things,” Godoy said, and “art, for me, is everything.”

Everything on the shelves at Reuse has been donated — even the shelves, which Godoy and her husband made from wooden pallets. The store’s donation-based model helps Godoy keep prices down, though she prices her original artwork based on her years of experience and innovation with materials.

She shares her calls for donations on social media and through word-of-mouth via the many curious visitors who stroll by the storefront and are captivated by Godoy’s art and supplies. Many return with bags and boxes of items to donate.

“They help me, I help them, we all help the planet,” she said. “They like the same things as me.”

Frida Godoy in her store, Reuse Arts & Crafts
Frida Godoy in her store, Reuse Arts & Crafts. Photo: Eden Teller

Godoy opened Reuse in January 2020 after three years of searching for the perfect storefront. She’s lived in Oakland for 20 years but opened Reuse in Berkeley because she shares the eco-conscious values of the artistic community here, she said.

The store quickly captured the attention of members of the community. Berkeleyside reader Pamela Fox got in touch in February, shortly after the shop had opened, to say how impressed she was with the spot, adding that it reminded her of the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. Fox recounted having a long conversation with Godoy about reusability (in Spanish, which Godoy is more comfortable speaking than English) and how excited she was about the store.

But just as the store was finding its feet, the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders began shuttering businesses.

“I never imagined this pandemic could happen,” Godoy said, adding that it had affected her a lot.

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty of the early days of the lockdown, Godoy grappled with what to do with her store: try to stay abreast of rapidly changing conditions? Shutter the business and try again in a few years? In the end it was her years of work looking for a storefront that cemented her decision to stay open. And her hopes have been bolstered by the many shoppers who stumble upon the store by chance, and by her own natural optimism.

Photo: Krista Rourke

“If it’s not a good day, I only have to think of tomorrow,” she said. Gratitude is what keeps her centered: “I have life, I have hands, I have ability.”

Ten months into shelter in place, in January, Berkeleyside reader Krista Rourke got in touch to sing the praises of the Reuse Arts and Crafts and Godoy. Rourke said she didn’t see this as just a shop. “It’s the kind of movement Berkeley prides itself on,” she said, describing the store as a “wonderland of beautiful things.” She continued: “I think the whole world should know what she’s doing — it takes a lot of faith and courage under these circumstances.”

Godoy is already planning for a post-pandemic future when she can teach in-store art classes and share her techniques and imagination. She was born with inspiration and a drive for art, Godoy said, and so was everyone else.

“We all have talent,” Godoy said.