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Eco-friendly downtown supply store closes

June 9, 2011

The city’s pioneering store in eco-friendly building products, Green Way Supply, has closed its doors.

Selling everything from rain barrels to urban wind turbines, Green Way opened in 2007 as the green-building and remodeling trend began to catch on locally.

But the faltering economy and departure of business partner Terry Black, who moved back to his native Chicago to launch Live Green Now, left the other partners—the father-and-son team of Fred Gray and Randy Gray—to re-evaluate the direction of Green Way.

“I backed away from the business and my son is going to start a new business,” said Fred Gray.

Randy Gray’s business will open in a new, to-be announced location, and sell a mixture of eco-friendly and more traditional products such as skylights, the elder Gray said.

Green Way, with a 1,200-square-foot showroom at 620 N. Delaware in downtown Indianapolis, had six employees. In 2008, its partners told IBJ they were projecting sales of $3 million annually within three years.

“I was sad to hear it closed. I really was,” said former Green Way partner Black, who had been a fixture on morning television news programs with advice on eco-friendly building materials. “We had some pretty good growth for the first two and a half years.”

The recession hurt sales at Green Way, Black said, but he noted that he thinks the long-term future for green businesses remains strong. “I said [at Green Way] we’re on the right path here. We had a formula I thought was working.”

Fred Gray said his former business partner wanted to continue to invest in expanding the business, something he was not as inclined to do at the time.

Green Way was believed to be the only such store of its kind in the Indianapolis area, with the nearest being in Chicago.

The store was a good place to showcase Indiana-made, eco-friendly products, said Laura Arnold, former president of the Indiana Renewable Energy Association, a group of more than 60 renewable energy product manufacturers and related firms in the state. In fact, the association held its kickoff at the store.

Among Green Way’s customers was the Indianapolis Museum of Art, to which it sold products such as recycled tire flooring for the 544-seat  Randall L . and Marianne W. Tobias Theater, better known as “The Toby.”

While the number of eco-friendly products has blossomed in recent years—many available via the Internet—Green Way gave shoppers a place to check out such relatively exotic products such as countertops made of concrete and recycled glass.

Big home-improvement stores have widened eco-product offerings in recent years, although they often don’t have the knowledgeable store personnel, Black said.

His new business in Northbrook, Ill., also has an e-commerce site with more than 300 products.

Black said he continues to partner with firms in the Indianapolis area to supply products, and recently finished installing a 40,000-watt solar array atop a parking canopy of an Evansville apartment complex.

The Chicago market offers more sales opportunities and Illinois offers broader incentives for green products, Black said. “There’s still a market down [in Indianapolis]” though, he added.

Among the ever-expanding array of products Black sells these days is a device that sprays water vapor onto outdoor air conditioning compressors, to make their heat-transfer more efficient.
 

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