LOGAN SQUARE — The world's only button museum never looked much like a museum.
For the last seven years, the Busy Beaver Button Museum operated out of a small Logan Square facility at 3279 W. Armitage Ave., where only a fraction of the pinback buttons — emblazoned with slogans like "League Of Women Voters" and "Smile You're On Candid Button" — were displayed along office walls and above desks. The rest were stored away.
Now, after 21 years in business, Busy Beaver finally has a button museum worthy of hosting tours from across the globe. Last month the button company moved into a much larger facility one block west at 3407 W. Armitage Ave. complete with a dedicated showroom.
When you walk in, there are about 1,600 buttons displayed along a gallery wall. Thousands more are stored in nearby flat files and binders, allowing folks to more easily peruse the collection, which is made up of about 18,000 buttons in total.
"It's exciting. We can finally get all of the buttons that people want to see out and people can do research if they want," said owner Christen Carter.
But the museum is just one facet of Busy Beaver. The company's main focus is manufacturing buttons for businesses, causes and political campaigns, among other clients — an operation that continues to grow year after year.
By the end of the month, the button-makers will have produced 4 million buttons in 2016, up from around 10,000 buttons their first year.
The button museum has a dedicated area at the new facility. [All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
The big move was years in the making.
About two years ago, the Carter siblings found the blighted building just one block west of their old facility. It had been sitting vacant for a while after getting hit with two fires, including one that killed a woman and two men.
Carter bought the building, knowing that its size — double that of the old Armitage building — would not only allow for a dedicated area for the museum but would also give employees more room to breathe.
For years, every surface at Busy Beaver was covered in stacks upon stacks of buttons, order forms and manufacturing equipment. "We were very much on top of each other," said Denise Gibson, who handles marketing for Busy Beaver.
It was even more cramped in the early days, when the company operated out of the basement of Carter's college apartment in Palmer Square.
The new facility, however, is not only huge, but it's also stylish with vintage details like rounded doorways, salvaged windows and exposed brick.
Workers assembling buttons by hand at the new facility.
The production side feels like an old-school factory with workers bent over machinery, cranking out button after button. A single worker can produce about 2,200 buttons in a single day at full speed. But the highest number made in the shop in one day is 6,500.
Busy Beaver hired more production staff before making the move to keep up with growing demand, Gibson said.
"We've seen a lot of orders come in for the Dakota Access Pipeline," Gibson said, referring to the battle over the proposed oil pipeline. "People are using buttons to express their opinions. I really think that within the next four years, the cause section should only grow."
This year's election also contributed to a "significant" bump in button sales, Carter said.
"This election has been so polarizing and I think some of the expressions [on the buttons] are positive," she said. "It's a good time to feel compassion for your fellow human beings."
The owners expect to see even more growth over the next decade. Carter said one of the many reasons they bought the building is because it has a back yard that can be converted into an addition when — not if — they outgrow the new building.
"We're hoping for a seven-year life span," Carter joked.
The button museum accepts visitors anytime between 10 a..m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
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