Internally, it’s known as “Shay-Mart.” Officially, it’s Rescued Metals & Equipment, the brainchild of Shay Schupan, another member of the Schupan family who is turning discarded materials into a viable business.
Housed inside an understated storefront and warehouse along Miller Road, Rescued Metals & Equipment is like the Island of Misfit Toys for metal. Schupan, a nephew of Marc Schupan, scours Schupan & Sons recycling facilities for antique items, odd decorative pieces, and metals that can be given a second life by being sold to businesses or repurposed by artists and do-it-yourselfers. The company also produces a series of metal art items, including custom signs for campers and beer lovers, among others.
Rescued Metals, which opened in 2018, is a unique enterprise in the world of recycling, says Shay Schupan. “Other recycling centers that tried to do something like this did it like a sideshow-attraction-type thing, to where they might have a rack at the recycling center where they’d put a couple nice pieces up,” he explains. “We wanted to see if it could be a whole business — not just a sideshow attraction — where we could divert material from all our recycling centers but also deal with all the mills and manufacturers through all our divisions. If they have surplus material or even equipment, we could funnel it through this business as an industrial retail thrift shop.”
For decades, artists and self-repair aficionados have frequented recycling centers, combing through them looking for their desired materials. The practice became too much of a liability for recycling center operators, says Schupan, but the thirst for that kind of metal and disposed-of items remained.
Items dropped off by residents or businesses for recycling at any of the Schupan & Sons divisions can find their way to “Shay-Mart.” On a recent visit, the shop’s antiques section displayed vintage teapots, old silverware, jet parts and more. Highly collectable or rare pieces often end up in the company’s eBay listings.
Schupan says he works with the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, local artists and other craftspeople who seek very specific items. “I’ve got a guy who makes barstools out of crankshafts from cars,” he says. “We go there (to recycling centers), and when we see crankshafts, we pull them out for him.”
Most items stay on the shelves at Rescued Metals about 90 days. If no one wants an item, it is returned to the recycling process. “We’re giving it one more last chance to get back out there to be reused before it gets recycled,” Schupan says.
The art of metal
Schupan and employees J.D. Rowan and Mike Hoffman have also found a niche repurposing material into metal art. They produce garden art, monograms, camping-and-outdoor-themed signs, beer-related pieces, patriotic displays and more. Recently, they started powder-coating metal art to give the pieces vibrant colors and incorporating patinas that give steel the appearance of copper or bronze. The items have been popular enough that Rescued Metals now has a vendor booth at the new Kalamazoo Kitty location at 581 Romence Road, in Portage.
“It’s become a big part of the business,” Schupan says. “We’ve done a lot of custom stuff, not only just signs that we’ve made for people on their request, but for about anything you can think of.”
You know you’ve arrived at Rescued Metals when you see a 1971 Ford fire truck from Kalamazoo’s Westwood Fire Department in the parking lot. Schupan, who is also a firefighter for Kalamazoo County/Cooper Township, bought the vintage truck because “it fit the rescue theme” of the business’s name.
The 26-acre site of the operation, at 2900 Miller Road, was purchased in 2016 by Schupan & Sons primarily for the industrial building on the site. That building is another rescue story.
With the exception of a dozen raccoons, the building sat abandoned for about 25 years, Schupan says. “It probably could’ve been knocked down, to be honest with you,” he says. “It was filled with water and 3 inches of dirt.” Schupan spent six months getting the building and retail frontage suitable for the public, doing the hard labor of pulling down old insulation and adding new flooring.
The building illustrates Schupan’s ability to squeeze a lot of juice from every lemon. The space is filled with surplus or secondary metals — pieces ideal for building a dock or deck, repairing a trailer or adding an affordable flagpole to the yard.
“Rescued Metals opened up to fill a niche of either the do-it-yourselfers, the weekend repair guys, guys fixing trailers — smaller projects where maybe they don’t need full-sized material or maybe they don’t need prime, perfect shiny material,” Schupan explains.
Ingenuity at repurposing is on full display at Rescued Metals. Schupan spotted old shipping containers at a recycling center and turned them into additional workrooms, including the room where the powder coating takes place. The Rescued Metals team built its own welding table from scrap metal. After noticing that welding was a growing hobby among his customers, Schupan and his employees developed a welding table kit so customers could assemble their own welding tables at home. Even the wheeled hanging racks that look like something out of a 1950s dry cleaner came from a Schupan scrapyard and are now used to dry painted metal art.
“The whole ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ (theme) — we asked, ‘Can we do any more with that ‘reuse’ part?’” Schupan says. “You get all the value you can out of it. Recycling is obviously great, but it still takes energy and a lot of resources to recycle. Really, the only thing better than recycling is reusing. That’s really where our hearts have been with some of this stuff.”