Turning an old retail space into a haven for local artisans
I’m a busy person. I don’t say that to sound boastful because “harried” is something I have been working hard not to be. Still, I tend to overcommit and have trouble saying no to exciting ideas and projects. (Exhibit A: getting pregnant while we were in the middle of building our house.)
The latest? I am opening a store on North Haven this summer! The idea started on a snowy, lonely evening in January, when many islanders do their most creative thinking. I was visiting my friend Carrie Brezzo, who has her own clothing line called Able Jane. We were talking about summer plans, as islanders also do in January, and about what would become of the former Fox Island Printworks retail space now that the company had been sold to a new owner.
After mourning the vacant space, one of very few downtown (pictured above), we casually decided to start a business together. After all, we both have products to sell. (I run Island Apothecary out of our home.) How hard could it be? We spent the winter brainstorming what we envisioned. Then it dawned on us that we could go way bigger than just the two of us. We could reach out to the vast community of artists and makers who live among us and turn the space into a place for all of us.
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re opening North Haven Mercantile to showcase the work of a wide range of island artists who might not otherwise have easy access to a gift store or gallery. So far, we have more than 20 vendors, mostly from North Haven but also from Vinalhaven, Islesboro, and Monhegan.
I don’t have a sneak peek of the space yet, as we’ve just finished painting and we’re setting up the merchandise as I type. But I can share some best practices for any wannabe entrepreneurs out there, especially those who are based in a remote community.
Consult Nearby Businesses.
No one can give you better advice than the people who are already running companies in your town. We reached out to local storeowners, who shared everything from consignor agreement forms to how they manage inventory through a point-of-sales system. To say they were crucial is an understatement.
Go the DIY Route.
Since we didn’t want to take out a loan or spend a lot of money to get the store in working order, we relied on sweat equity. Carrie is an amazing carpenter, so she built most of our countertops and tables. We spent evenings and weekends painting. And we’ve pulled tables and old wine crates from our own homes to use for displays. Starting a new store is a risk, so we’ll see how this season goes, and if we do as well as we hope, we’ll be hiring someone else to paint the ceiling next summer.
Tap Local Organizations.
Maine is actually a great state to start a new business in. The Augusta branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration will pair you with an advisor to help you through the initial process, from registering for an LLC to filing your taxes. I also consulted with the economic development team at the Island Institute, who is continuing to help us figure things out as we go. After all, the Institute runs its own shop highlighting island-made wares (and it’s awesome).
Any storeowners out there have other advice for me? I’m all ears! Follow us on Instagram to see progress shots of the shop, and I hope to see you in person this summer — we open Memorial Day weekend. Wish us luck!