Downtown Harrisonburg is full of unconventional shops, but one new Court Square addition called Bring Your Own, LLC, sits apart from the rest. Operating out of a renovated Airstream trailer next to Taj of India, this small start-up sells sturdy and reusable household products “in a time where single-use disposable products are the norm,” as their website puts it.
Owner Allie Emerick founded Bring Your Own, LLC as a response to the amount of waste she sees being produced by our communities on a regular basis, but that journey didn’t start in Harrisonburg. In fact, it began in the ocean.
“I started scuba diving a few years ago, and that was when I really started noticing and being aware of my waste and the waste all around me,” said Emerick. “Every time I dive, I find some sort of trash — usually plastic — in the ocean, and it’s devastating. I started watching documentaries, reading blogs, and brainstorming ways to reduce my own waste. There are so many simple changes that everyone can make that would make such a huge difference.”
Finding her passion in pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle and encouraging others to do the same is what pushed Emerick from teaching middle school — she graduated from James Madison University with a degree in elementary education — to holding zero-waste workshops and eventually opening her own store.
“My hopes are to share and encourage people to make small changes in their lives that positively impact the future of our planet,” said Emerick. “I have been open for less than one week, and I have already been presented with so many opportunities to get people thinking in different way[s].”
Emerick officially opened Bring Your Own, LLC to the public last Friday afternoon with a grand opening event, complete with home-brewed kombucha, cupcakes donated by Heritage Bakery, and a raffle drawing for different store items. Graduate student Liana Hershey, who attended the grand opening event, said, “BYO was not what I was expecting at all … But it was still really cool and I will definitely go back.”
Some of the products on BYO’s shelves during the grand opening included bamboo toothbrushes and silverware, reusable containers, and cloth napkins.
For Emerick, opening the store is just the latest progression in her passion of bringing a zero-waste lifestyle into the Harrisonburg norm.
“I am bringing a new awareness and way of thinking to Harrisonburg,” said Emerick. “I hope to change the way people think about their daily choices. I think all the college students in the area provide an incredible opportunity to spread this awareness and way of thinking.”
Hershey agrees about the importance of offering sustainable alternatives, especially for college students. “The store is important for people to see that there are alternatives to what one might normally find in Walmart, Target, or a grocery store. There are more sustainable options,” said Hershey.
Office Coordinator of the Department of Applied Social Sciences Ben Bailey is also supportive of Emerick’s new undertaking. “It’s always exciting to see young people starting new, unique businesses in downtown Harrisonburg,” said Bailey. “That’s one thing that is special about Harrisonburg. There are a lot of businesses owned by young people who care about the city and have unique ideas.”
Emerick’s unique take on retail stems from a quote from marine biologist Sylvia Earle that Emerick claims is foundational to her zero-waste passion and worldview:
“Our near and distant predecessors might be forgiven for exterminating the last woolly mammoth, the ultimate dodo, the final sea cow, and the last living monk seal for lack of understanding the consequences of their actions. But who will forgive us if we fail to learn from past and present experiences, to forge new values, new relationships, a new level of respect for the natural systems that keep us alive?”
Bring Your Own, LLC is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.