A Red Barn Full of Books 3

Clever business 
upcycles old books and 
makes them relevant again

Roller skates and a red barn have proven to be the perfect ingredients for an ingenuous new business venture in the Salt Lake valley. Red Barn Collections is a business that saves old books and gives them new life as unique and charming journals. The nascent business was founded by Brooke Burgee and has flourished due to the efforts of many, including her life partner Ben Bowen.

“I went home to Vermont and took care of a friend with leukemia after her transplant. My friend Amelia and I made these as Christmas gifts. We went out and collected books when she felt well and made them as a project.” The project was taking discarded books, like The Cat in the Hat or The Hardy Boys, and turning them into journals by removing the spine, adding quality art paper, and rebinding it with metal wiring. Burgee and her friend would meticulously cut each book and reassemble it.  Recipients were thrilled with the one-of-a-kind creations and it tapped into all of Burgee’s passions–books, upcycling, environmental responsibility, writing, and creativity.

Burgee stayed in Vermont for five months. She helped Amelia regain her health and avidly collected vintage and unique books and stored them in the red barn that is on her family’s property. When Burgee returned to Salt Lake, her mom threatened to get rid of the red barn book collection. There were just too many books. This is when the idea of an upcycled book journal business started to take shape. She originally came west to take graduate classes at the University of Utah in Positive Psychology. All of her classes emphasized the huge health benefits of journaling and now Burgee had a way of promoting this ideal with her unique new business idea.

The successful hobby was about to become a full-blown occupation when Burgee went roller skating in Liberty Park and met a fellow roller skater, Ben Bowen. They took a few laps together around the park and instantly became friends. The roller skates brought them together and over the next month, she shared her idea of upcycled book journals and he loved it. Bowen is a Utah native and with his help, the two decided to get a vendor permit and see what would happen. Wasting no time, they set up a table at Liberty Park and gave it a shot.

The mindset, according to Bowen was, “Let’s just go out there and see what happens, to overcome that one little hump of fear and to actually sell them.” It was all the encouragement they needed. After that first day, they decided to start selling at farmer’s markets and arts festivals in the area. It has now grown from one small room to a 2300 sq/ft office space on 330 West 700 South in downtown Salt Lake City. The sales have been astounding from a modest first day of selling $80 to a business that is able to offer flexible and self-paced work opportunities during the busy summer and holiday months. Ben Bowen also wisely enrolled at Westminster College in the business school to learn as much as possible about business.

At the beginning of this year, Red Barn Collections won two awards from Westminster College because of all of the many positive aspects of the business–providing flexible work opportunities for employees, improving the environment through recycling, and most importantly, getting consumers to write because of the beautiful journals the company handcrafts.

Many new doors have opened since the start of Red Barn Collections. The business is now filling large orders for corporate buyers in other states and word is spreading about this charming product that is both useful and nostalgic. It is a wonderful and unique gift idea. “We are going to have a booth at the Los Angeles Festival of Books in April,” says Burgee enthusiastically. It is the largest book festival in the country and the perfect market for this kind of product. They hope to sell lots of journals and also make important contacts for future business transactions.

Not only does Red Barn Collections help the environment by recycling old books and making them beautiful and useful again in a new way, but it is also dedicated to giving back to the community by donating many journals to local literary programs, homeless shelters and medical centers. This is a business that is making Utah a more beautiful place, one page at a time.