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June 2, 2015

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Entrepreneur turns Strip’s trash into others’ treasures

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Leila Navidi

Steve Cherry, CEO and co-founder of Bottles & Wood, sits in the display room at the company’s headquarters in Las Vegas on Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.

Bottles & Wood

Products made by Bottles & Wood on display at their headquarters in Las Vegas on Friday, August 24, 2012. Launch slideshow »
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Products made by Bottles & Wood are on display at their headquarters in Las Vegas on Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.

Tucked in a warehouse a mile from the Las Vegas Strip, a handful of employees cut, grind, sand and polish glass — turning tourists' trash into treasure.

It's the business of bottles, and there's certainly no shortage in Las Vegas. The Strip's 24-hour party cycle sends scores of empty liquor, wine and beer bottles to the trash, much of it destined for burial at a landfill.

The demise of this perfectly good glass troubled Steve Cherry, founder of Bottles & Wood, a new Las Vegas-based company that repurposes discarded alcohol bottles.

"The last thing we should be doing with these bottles is crushing it and filling a landfill," he said. "That does nothing for anyone."

His business idea didn't start in Las Vegas, though. A Southern California native, Cherry began repurposing glass water bottles to make candleholders for a friend's restaurant. Customers approved of the new decor and asked where to buy it.

A sudden demand for the unique glassware got Cherry, a former software executive, thinking: Could this little side business be the start of something greater?

"I was like a shop guy when I was a kid," he said. "Never thought I was going to make a living at it."

Fast forward to July. That's when Cherry moved his burgeoning business into warehouse space with a view of the Strip on the west side of Interstate 15. He pays 40 cents a square foot to rent the space and, so far, employs a dozen people.

"There are more liquor bottles coming out of this one-mile Strip than in Southern California," Cherry said, explaining his rationale for moving to Las Vegas. "It's an enormous anomaly."

In a sense, his business model emulates the actual recycling process: He takes unwanted glass bottles from Las Vegas establishments, repurposes them and sells the new products back to wholesalers, tourists and locals. His glassware, ranging in price from $7.50 to $50 per piece, can be bought online or in gift shops.

Have a favorite liquor brand? There's probably a product made from it. Drinking glasses made from Grey Goose vodka bottles line one display shelf. Across the way, there's a light fixture featuring glass from a Jack Daniel's whiskey bottle. Other products include candleholders, candy bowls, wine tumblers and jewelry.

Cherry said his company was pursuing trademark licensing agreements with major liquor brands.

"We don't put any logos on anything we do," he said. " We just take existing product and repurpose it."

The "wood" part of the company name refers to a similar venture in California's wine country. The company's San Francisco factory takes old wine barrels and creates products, such as cheese trays and cutting boards.

In Las Vegas, Bottles & Wood has received discarded bottles from the Mob Bar, Bar + Bistro, Triple George and Krave, to name a few, Cherry said. He's working with Strip properties but can't yet disclose their names.

It's an opportunity Cherry calls a "win-win-win" for all involved. Bottles & Wood pays establishments 10 cents to 50 cents per bottle of liquor or specialty beer, he said.

"The hotels pay by the ton to have their glass hauled away," he said. "So if we take away a ton a week, it's less money they pay."

Cherry also views his new company as a way to make an impact in Nevada, a state known for its scarce environmental laws. He hopes to offer tours of the Las Vegas factory to school groups.

The 58-year-old admits his new venture is a far cry from software company boardrooms — and the ocean, for that matter. He's an avid sailor.

"I thought it was time for me to give back to the community," he said. "Doing software is horribly financially rewarding and empty in every other sense of job satisfaction."

Just don't ask about his favorite drink. It's water, he says, laughing as he looks at all the repurposed alcohol bottles surrounding him.

"I'm not a hard liquor drinker," he said. "I do enjoy my tequila once in a while."

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