Green Element Resale Plants Seeds of Sustainability

The Edgewater staple, located at 6241 N. Broadway, sells everything second-hand, from shoes to records to kitchen utensils.

Gently worn jackets, books with perfumed pages, artifactual furniture — personality oozes out of every object in Green Element Resale shop.

The Edgewater staple, located at 6241 N. Broadway, sells everything second-hand, from shoes to records to kitchen utensils. Opened in 2010 and operated by store manager Bill Salek as well as the not-for-profit environmental group Big Medicine headed by Brian Haag, Green Element aims to educate community members on green economics and environmental sustainability.

Haag founded Big Medicine in 2004. He said the organization travels to schools and attends events to spread awareness of the harmful effects of resource extraction and clothing manufacturing industries on the environment. 

Haag said Salek keeps the environment of Green Element Resale lively amidst the “hardcore” practices of the store.

“His sense of humor is fantastic,” Haag said. “It helps keep everything lighter. And for a lot of people, it’s easier to work that way.”

As the store manager and partner founder, Salek is an instrumental aspect of the store’s character. He said that the work he does, from front-of-house cashiering to refurbishing antique woodworks, fills up his time well. Salek said he does it all for the love of the job. 

Bill Salek, 77, has been behind-the-counter at Green Element Resale for 13 years. (Holden Green / The Phoenix)

“This is what I like doing,” Salek said. “I really, thoroughly enjoy being here, and I enjoy a challenge, and this can be a challenge.” 

At 77, Salek said he has to be out of the house and with people. Customers may encounter his amusing banter and refreshing honesty at any point in their shopping experience. 

Prior to meeting his business partner, Salek said he volunteered at Brown Elephant Resale Shop in Andersonville where he gained experience in working with antiques. He met Haag when his construction company did rehab work on the thrift store. 

Months after meeting, the two realized they were neighbors. During a chance encounter on the street, Salek expressed dissatisfaction with political campaign posters hanging in a nearby window and Haag admitted both the posters and window were his. 

Haag said the relationship that formed in the years to follow was founded on mutual respect toward the other’s viewpoints.

Salek describes himself and Haag as opposites, noting that their motives behind opening the shop were very different. Salek’s previous experience at Brown Elephant made him an expert with antiques, his interest sparked in the notion of manning a store himself. 

Haag said he wanted to create a physical space to expand Big Medicine’s mission to highlight sustainable practices and educate community members on the damaging effects of mass production on the environment.

“I said to him, ‘Brian, you know, you wanna support your organization so you can further expand your environmental issues.’” Salek said. “I’m not an environmentalist, I’m a capitalist. So it’s the perfect combination.”

This “perfect combination” of Salek and Haag’s differing views proves to be the bedrock of the store’s success. 

“I think it’s recognizing that the other one knows their stuff,” Haag said. “We’re probably both at a good point in our lives where we recognize that you don’t need to learn everything somebody else already knows.”

Salek said he thinks this lesson in tolerance is one they are “planting that seed” for younger people to learn from.

The decision to establish Green Element Resale in Rogers Park was largely Haag’s, according to Salek. 

The store carries an array of second-hand trinkets, furniture, clothing, DVDs and more. (Holden Green / The Phoenix)

“I don’t have the vision he did,” Salek said. “I did not see this, and I knew, though, there was gonna be no stopping him. This is what he wanted, and what he did was amazing.”

Operating behind the counter for 13 years has given Salek a front-row seat to changes within the Loyola community.

“I think students would have looked down on people buying used, whereas now I think they respect it,” Salek said. “You know, it’s a good thing for everybody, and I see the change. I like the students of today way better than I did the students of 10 years ago.”

Other changes have been internal, though — the neighborhood’s cultural diversity has altered Salek’s approach to commerce. Through conversations with those of different cultural backgrounds, he learned that it’s customary in many countries to assume that the market price is “jacked up,” prompting people to bargain for a lower price. 

“Now I see what their thinking is,” Salek said. “And how do we adjust to that to where it’s gonna be fair for everyone? That’s my biggest challenge.” 

This education provided him with the knowledge necessary to build a better relationship with his customers. 

“I’ve grown over the years to know them, and to know that eventually we’ll come up with a fair price for both the Green Element and them,” Salek said.

He said he’s used to upset customers insulting him, the merchandise and store policies. Despite these frequent challenging encounters, Salek remains committed to Green Element. 

His uncompromising attitude has served his happiness well. Salek said he has found success and fulfillment in his work by sticking to his morals and routines, while also continuing to learn how to adapt to change from the cultures he interacts with. 

“If you sit too long in one spot, cobwebs will form,” Selak said. “You have to keep moving.”

Haag said he remains fulfilled by his work, too. 

“It’s something that I can feel good about every single day, you know, that I’m in it,” Haag said. “That I know I’m slowing down wilderness destruction.” 

With Salek and Haag continuing their business partnership together, Green Element remains a Loyola hotspot. 

“I would love to someday see Loyola take over the store,” Haag said, adding that he sees Green Element’s future in the hands of the school and its students.

“I love Loyola,” Salek said. “I love the Jesuits — I always have. They’ve always been at the forefront of social justice, and I’ve always admired that.”

He adds, with characteristic frankness, “And I guess, deep down, I admire the way they know how to make money.”

Salek takes his expertise, wisdom and humor with him through every transaction of second-hand goods and conversation from behind Green Element’s front counters, leaving an impression on the Edgewater and Rogers Park communities. 

“My life motto would be, ‘Eventually, you’re gonna die,’” Salek said. “We’re all gonna die, and I’m gonna die happy.”

Featured image by Holden Green / The Phoenix

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