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Community Closet just 'Clowning Around'

Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em smile. And, yes, maybe just creep ‘em out a little so they don’t stay in there too long – the bathroom that is.

The Community Closet staff takes great pride in their imaginative bathroom designs. Every year they redecorate the bathroom with a new theme. It’s become a bit of a local landmark; people go out of their way to check it out.

“We have people who are only here in the summer and they drop by and make a beeline to the back to see what the new bathroom is,” Caron Cooper, CEO and founder, said Thursday.

This year’s theme is “Clowning Around.”

“We chose clowns this year because they are so well associated with thrift-store materials and we knew we'd have an easy time finding the decorations,” Cooper said.

The staff stashed donated clown-related items for a year. When it came time to change the bathroom décor, employee Teena Hagen made it happen.

“I was very intimidated when they asked me to do it because our bathroom is a really big thing; we’ve had some really good bathrooms,” she said. “They pulled out the boxes and said they wanted a clown theme. So, OK. But I thought, ‘How am I ever going to get this done?’ You can ask Caron, sometimes I overthink things.

“But I’m a graphic designer and I’m just really good at taking whatever is given to me and making it into something extraordinary,” she said.

First, red stripes were painted on the walls, creating a red-and-white template. Then Hagen started putting things together. “It’s a puzzle,” she said.

Brightly colored ribbons were used to outline the photos and those went on the walls first. Then, she said, “For some reason clowns make me think of polka dots, so I hoarded a bunch of felt and used that to make polka dots of different sizes.”

She transformed a baby quilt covered in clowns by adding some striped material – “I safety-pinned it all together” – and a pocket for the curtain rod, then used that to cover the hot water heater in an upper corner. She found two clown T-shirts, cut out the designs and framed those. A donated, multicolored circus light rotates above the sink. And on it went until she was done.

“It came out much better than I thought because I really had no idea what I was going to do,” she said. “But with my graphic design background and a visual in my head, we put it all together”

She acknowledged that clowns elicit mixed reactions.

“There are good clowns and there are scary clowns,” she said. “But overall it seems to be a

good response from people. The kids love it. I’ve heard little kids go in there and say, ‘Mommy! Look at the clowns!’ Being scared seems to be more of an adult type thing.”

But Cooper and store manager Jamie Plummer said they took that into consideration before agreeing on the clown theme.

“Clowns are sad and they’re often used to scare people,” Plummer said. “But creepy is a good thing.”

Cooper agreed. “Part of the goal was we didn’t want people lingering in the bathroom.”

That’s not to say they aren’t proud of that bathroom.

Public bathrooms are a rarity in thrift stores, Cooper noted. “We started to make a big deal about the bathroom when customers lost access to bathrooms in Bozeman-area thrift stores. How could you disrespect your customers like that? So of course we went overboard.”

The first bathroom theme was vintage clothes, designed by Plummer. The second design was Spanish conquistadors, which Cooper did. “All the décor, including a bullfighting poster, were donations to the thrift store,” she said.

Cooper may be biased since it was her idea, but her personal favorite was the Lawrence Welk bathroom. “We got new pearlescent flooring for this theme, so it looked like a dance floor,” she said. “Because this was so great and we kept getting more stuff, we kept this one up for two years.”

A tourist who used to perform with Welk and had heard about the bathroom even came by to see for herself. “And she was right there in the old picture from the ‘Lawrence Welk Show’,” Cooper said. “It was great.”

One of the more popular themes was “Celebrate Local Musicians,” which was also a labor of love for Plummer.

“I’m a local musician and I really wanted to say, ‘Support your local retired musicians,’” she said. “That’s what inspired me and prompted me to pull out my photo collection. In fact, 95 percent of that design was from my collection. I also wanted to have memories of local musicians who had passed. This was my memorial.

“Musicians came from all over. They had their pictures taken in there. They left their music business cards,” she said.

After that, she curated the “Pets of Park County” bathroom, complete with pet photos submitted by shoppers.

Cooper said, “So many folks took comfort in seeing their pets’ photos. I know I loved seeing my dog Murray up there.”

The result of all this creativity is consistently playful designs that inevitably trigger a grin from even the most curmudgeonly shoppers.

And, Plummer said, “It’s a landmark, a hysterical Livingston landmark.”

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