Ten years ago, Beth Hollenbeck railed against what she saw as the "bullshit hype" of eco-friendly products. Specifically, she took aim at toilet paper, which corporations were labeling "recycled" and inflating costs. In fact, the T.P. wasn't recycled -- it was actually bought from saw mills and did squat for the environment.
"We just got duped," she says. Hollenbeck put her money where her mouth was, and gave up a computer-software job to start the ECO-Store, originally a home-delivery catalogue of truly eco-friendly merchandise -- including toilet paper. She first set up shop at Orange and Kaley avenues south of downtown, moving a year later to the store's current College Park home. At the time, rumors abounded that the area soon would be redeveloped into a retail Mecca.
As her business grew, the storefront became a haven for environmental activists, and a base from which to convert others. She even started ECO-Action, a nonprofit organization that put together Earth Day events and other clean-up activities. But about five years ago, the eco-fad ended, and business slacked. Redevelopment rumors persisted, but never materialized. The current recession and Sept. 11, Hollenbeck says, sounded the death knell.
"One of the things we did was try to appeal to everybody," Hollenbeck says. "I've been spread far too thin." This Saturday, Feb. 2, the ECO-Store will close its doors, moving its merchandise instead to the Internet (www.eco-store.com) and Hollenbeck's eco-evangelism to ECO-Action, which she promises will be more visible in coming months.
"It's logical to schlep stuff over" to the regular College Park Growers' Market, which ECO-Action helped start, she says, "and not be confined [to the shop] the other 50 hours a week." Now, she'll have more time for what she really enjoys -- some good, old-fashioned activism.