For some, the appeal of Flagstaff comes in the form of its natural beauty, its saturation of hues from blood red to snow white, its view of the San Francisco Peaks and its proximity to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. For others, such as Michigan native Donielle Schnepp, the appeal of Flagstaff comes in its culture and its seemingly boundless expression through music, performance and art.
“When I came to Flagstaff, there was this raw, free aspect that I’ve never experienced before,” says Schnepp. “There was just music all the time. Folk music to thrash metal to classical guitar, jazz, just so many different things and so many people celebrating one another and their individuality.”
And even more than its arts scene, Schnepp fell in love with Flagstaff for its community, and since 2016 she’s been fostering that community with Re-Birthday Info Shoppe & Boutique. Specializing in all things local, Schnepp and her shop sell everything from local music on CD, cassette and vinyl to handcrafted jewelry and clothing.
When Schnepp left her Michigan home, she knew not what to expect from the West. Schnepp had never seen anything else but Michigan, and when she found herself in Hot Springs, Arkansas, she ran into a couple of unsuspecting characters who showed her exactly what she was looking for: kindness. After giving Schnepp a tour around their antique store, she told them of her situation living on the road without a home and a bed to sleep on, and they took her into massive room with antiques and quilts, and they said, “Pick one.”
“I didn’t even have a bed, and I had never been shown that kind of kindness. So it really did inspire me to not give up hope on humanity. Because that’s what the quest was. What is the rest of the world like? And this was the beginning of that journey,” she says. “I still have that quilt on my bed today. It’s amazing. It’s gorgeous. I said, ‘Well, I’m heading to Arizona,’ so I chose one that looked like mountains and stars.”
After making her way around the country and falling in love with Flagstaff, she wanted to bring that sense of kindness and empowerment to others, so when a small office space in Paseo del Norte in the Southside of Flagstaff opened up, she knew immediately that she wanted the space.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I think I need that room.’ And my intuition, all at once, everything in me just was screaming, saying, ‘Get that space.’ At that point I had kind of been playing around with the idea of doing Dapper Dre’s Flea Market. So the wheels were turning, and I started to formulate the idea of this pop-
up [store]. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have enough money to pay for this, but something just said do it.”
Within a couple of weeks, she obtained the space and worked multiple jobs to keep it. Immediately she began crafting gifts, gathering fabrics and printing literature and zines.
“I thought to myself, ‘We need another space where people can come and talk about stuff
from radical ideas to yard farms to just challenging the idea of capitalism and our place in it.’ It’s OK to have those conversations. It’s really healthy. So I just did whatever I could to pay the rent. Things just kept coming to me, and I thought, ‘What do I really want this to be? What don’t we have in this town?’”
For Schnepp, it was an open space for an exchanging of ideas without the pressure to consume or spend money, but she wasn’t seeing her dream come to life in the office space she was renting. But when friend and co-operator of The Hive, Alec Tippett, informed Schnepp of a larger open space for less money next to the studio, she took it. Now, in her space on Phoenix Avenue just south of the train tracks, Re-Birthday has a lobby which hosts all-ages shows and art galleries and welcomes the community to sit and relax for no cost.
“I’m offering various shades of beauty within these walls. Beautiful things, literature and a space for you to come chill out. You don’t have to buy anything, but if you want to unwind and recoup, come read a book in the free lending library, come sit and listen to a record of a local band that you’ve never heard. Just go within for a little without feeling pressure to shell out cash.”
Schnepp, 29, continues to be inspired by the community, specifically with work being done at the Flea Market and Taala Hooghan, an indigenous-established collective and info shop. Like Taala Hooghan, Re-Birthday offers local music, arts and crafts, as well as literature and zines on capitalism, indigenous cultures and social issues. Her aim, ultimately, is “to foster an environment that provides a kind of sanctuary for the weary, vulnerable and marginalized, as well as the already empowered and activated individual, from every walk of life,” she says.
While Re-Birthday focuses on community and ideas, it also acts as a catalyst for Schnepp’s own change. With the recent passing of three close friends, Ash Rickli, Petter Bechman and Seth Sharkey, all of whom inspired Schnepp in some way, she uses the shop and her memories of them to guide her toward her own rebirth.
“The last eight years have been about self-exploration. Another emphasis of the shop is self-care. The most important place to start is with yourself. My personal journey has been about cleaning out the skeletons in my closet and saying, ‘I got nothing to hide. Let’s talk about this.’ There’s nothing I’m unwilling to talk about,” says Schnepp. “Re-Birthday is about growing; it’s about going through the birth canal, being reborn to yourself and saying, ‘I can be a new person today.’ It is my responsibility to inform other white people of whose land this really was and have the ever-present conversation about privilege.”
Re-Birthday Info Shoppe & Boutique is located at 2 S. Beaver St., Suite 125. For more information visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReBirthday.Shoppe.