There were no Black Friday door-busters at The Scrap Exchange.
But there were dinner-plate busters, paint-filled-Christmas-ornament busters and assorted-other-tchotchke busters as people lined up to break things in the oddly satisfying ritual called Smashfest.
The event, now in its fourth year, raises money for the exchange – which recycles things for use in art – and for some serves as a kind karmic counterbalance to the consumer frenzy that was simultaneously underway in malls and boutiques.
Participants buy fragile items, then fling them at a quirkily-decorated metal trash bin in the parking lot as an assortment of heavy metal bands screech a corrosive soundtrack.
The destruction began promptly at 4 p.m., and first up were 9-year-old buddies Will Lindsey of Chapel Hill and Jason Hugh of Durham, with a box each of assorted rounds of delicate ammunition.
Will had been giggling all day in anticipation, said his mother, Elizabeth Lindsey.
“Wouldn’t you?” she said. “It’s kid heaven.”
Kid heaven indeed, but that didn’t prevent Jason’s mom, Ann Leininger, from lining up beside him and flinging ceramic platters at the bin. That was after the moms treated the boys to a second box each.
Also among the early flingers were three Burkert kids: Macy, 12, Reed, 11, and Fleming, 9, from Durham. And their dad, John.
“I guess we like to do things that are a little nontraditional,” he said. “It’s nice to get outside, and we don’t like the malls all that much.”
Many participants see Smashfest as a blow against consumerism, and that’s fine, said co-organizer Daniel Bagnell. But it’s really about having fun and easing holiday tensions.
In fact, it began with the simple goal of relieving stress among The Scrap Exchange staff, which was getting a little burned out while moving the exchange to a new location. The workers were wrestling with massive piles of thrift-store items like coffee cups that weren’t of much use, and someone joked that they should just smash the stuff.
That’s exactly what happens now. Then the shards are fed into a cement mixer to polish off the sharp edges and – like much of what the exchange sells – the material is used as art supplies.
The Black Friday timing was mainly coincidental, Bagnell said. It just happened that was about the soonest they could organize things that first year, and they decided it would be a good fit.
The event has been getting more elaborate and now includes free music, free refreshments, free beer thanks to a beverage company sponsor, and even a performance art piece that involved audience members smashing tiles.
And it takes serious planning, what with lining up bands, setting up a roomful of items to sell for breaking, arranging for the trash bin and having some of the staff take practice flings to ensure the smashing gallery works.
In fact, while Smashfest eases holiday tension among the participants, it hasn’t been so successful at the original goal.
“Oh, every year it’s stressful to have this event,” Bagnell said. “It’s a complex thing, and I usually can’t sleep for days before.”