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Ashland company bags some new business

A local awning company is turning its scraps into cloth grocery bags with a fashion statement.

Deluxe Awning on Fourth Street offers dashing and durable bags that are colorful, reversible and long-lasting enough to be called "the 10-Year Bag," the owners say.

Made of a double layer of acrylic awning scrap, the extra-capacious bags stand up by themselves while you load your groceries, says Kyle Robinson of Deluxe.

He says his family members are using them for a range of other purposes, including as bags for books and toys.

Perusing the selection on a big outside rack, interior designer Jennifer Bright says the tote bags are an ideal replacement for her purse because of their ample size and ease of use.

"Purses don't work for me," says Bright. "I can't find anything. This tote is fun and I can get my design folders in there. And I love the orange and the stripes, as well as the natural black. It matches my clothes."

As Ashland markets gradually deplete their stores of plastic bags, which were recently banned for most uses by the City Council, the demand for cloth bags has soared, says Chuck Porter of Deluxe.

His employees are making the bags by cutting pieces out of scrap from awnings.

"People like the eye-catching and crazy colors and patterns a lot, but overall, we sell more of the conservative ones," says Porter. "And it only takes 11 minutes to sew one together."

Deluxe has been operating in the Historic Railroad District since 1982. Three-quarters of its jobs are residential, and a free bag is offered with each job, says seamstress Kathy Hostetter.

The bags go for $20, or $30 for extra-large. No two are alike.

"It's a good argument for buying a durable, attractive bag that will last 10 to 15 years, instead of buying five or six of them in the same period," says Porter. "The cheap, minimalist bags will end up in the landfill and that's what cloth bags are for, to avoid putting more stuff in the landfill. Plus, people want something that's cool-looking."

Consumers are already innovating, says Darlene Beckett, co-owner of Deluxe with her husband, Bill Welch. Artists are getting them for paintbrushes and paints, then painting pictures on the bags. A welder just bought one to hold his tools. They also make good gifts and souvenirs of Ashland, she adds, with some tourists buying four or five of them.

Some of the bags are made of vintage gold vinyl fabric from the 1930s, rescued from a Spokane fabric store that would sell only its full supply of 100 yards.

The City Council in mid-April banned plastic bags within city limits and required stores to charge a dime for paper bags.

The law gave markets half a year to use up their plastic bags, though the bags may still be used to package bulk items, produce, meat, frozen foods, potted plants and other damp items, hot prepared food and liquids, unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods, prescriptions and dry-cleaned clothing. Many markets phased out plastic bags long ago.

Deluxe is second only to the Grange Co-op in longevity within Ashland's Railroad District, says Welch.

It makes mostly awnings for local businesses and homes, but has expanded into making overhead awnings for walkways between airplanes and terminals, selling them in Australia and the Pacific Islands.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Darlene Beckett and Bill Welch, owners of Deluxe Awning in Ashland, are making durable, reusable market bags out of acrylic awning scrap.