COLUMBIA — When Pat Gerke walks her dog, neighbors run out of their houses and hand her wine bottles.
"They save them for me in hopes that I will make something wonderful from it," she said.
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Gerke, 61, repurposes empty wine bottles into hummingbird feeders, wine-bottle lanterns, wind chimes, seed feeders, melted bottles, lighted bottles, incense burners, candle holders and vases.
She started her business, BottleRedux, on Etsy in July and also sells her items in gift shops at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Aardvarx and Artlandish in downtown Columbia.
Most of her sales are in local shops, but she has sold about 35 items on Etsy, which went to a number of destinations across the United States, she said.
Her hummingbird feeders are the best sellers. To make the feeders, she winds copper wire around the bottle, inserts plastic tubing into the mouth as a feeding source and adds decorative jewelry. She buys the jewelry from a resale shop in Texas where her sister, Joyce Mealie, volunteers.
To make the wind chimes, she removes the bottom of a wine bottle and attaches a string of glass beads or a piece of jewelry inside to make the soft ringing sound. Her battery-powered lanterns also have recycled jewelry as accents.
Buying the jewelry from Teresa's Resale Shop in Roanoke, Texas, supports local charities, as well as recycles useful wares, she said.
"Not only am I recycling the jewelry, but the money goes to charity," Gerke said.
Always a lover of crafts
Although Gerke earned a degree in operating room technology, she has always enjoyed doing crafts.
"I always like to create things," she said.
Originally from Belleville, Ill., she moved to Columbia in 1981. She owned Lee Street Deli for nine years and then a cafe in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine until 2005.
For several years, she worked for Les Bourgeois Vineyards outside Rocheport, first as a part-time employee in the tasting room and then as production coordinator.
When Gerke retired a year ago, she was looking for something to keep her occupied. Because she had collected used wine bottles, she decided to do something with them.
"It's been fun," she said. "It's been a process to learn the cutting of the bottles and gathering the tools and supplies."
When Gerke first started BottleRedux, she did not need much capital to invest in the materials for her business. Besides the wine bottles, she was also given a wet saw, drill press and grinder.
Gerke then turned her basement to her work studio.
"People who found out that I was doing this thought that it was a cool and interesting thing," she said.
She learned to photograph her items and make them appealing to potential customers. Because Etsy is a competitive website for selling handcrafted items, she said the pictures of her items had to be attractive.
"Your picture sells your item," Gerke said. "I learned a lot about photography."
Recently, she made about 40 candleholders for Cory Bomgaars, the vice president of winery operations at Les Bourgeois, to use at his wedding.
Gerke said she gets her inspiration from her customers and from photographs she sees on social media sites such as Pinterest.
She also repurposes corks as bird houses and is still brainstorming other ways to use them.
"I just keep trying different things," she said.
What keeps Gerke going, she said, is the satisfaction of her customers. Her business enables her to be creative and come up with fun and interesting ideas.
"If I can create something as a gift for someone and they really enjoy it," she said. "To me, that's what I wanna do."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.