While this last year has brought incredible changes and struggles to all parts of our communities, among the challenges there have also been new opportunities, including for creatives. Between new stores opening to encouraging artists to pursue their work, these five businesses are helping to keep local artisans and crafters going.
Thunder Bay Country Market
The Thunder Bay Country Market takes locally made products seriously. As their “Make it, Bake it, Grow it,” motto indicates, virtually everything you can find at the market is made, baked or grown locally by local vendors. Open year-round, the market not only offers locally-grown food but also a variety of creative makers.
For photographer Heather Peden, becoming a vendor at the Thunder Bay Country Market has allowed her to establish a community presence even during the pandemic. In past years, Peden sold her prints intermittently at seasonal events, but after being laid off from her day job she decided to apply to become a market vendor. Being at the market has helped her become a consistent presence in the community, and inspired her to get her website started.
“I have really enjoyed meeting customers to the market and appreciated their support and interest in all the vendors,” she said. “It has also been great getting to know some of the other vendors and feeling like you’re part of something even as everyone struggles right now.”
Chris Merkely is a member of Weirdworks Studio, a collective of four local artists who have a booth at the Thunder Bay Country Market. Merkely, a comic artist, said that the market has helped Weirdworks Studio find a home for their comic and pop culture-focused art.
“To have a place where we have a permanent home is pretty amazing,” Merkely said. “We actually have an answer when someone asks, ‘Where can I find your work?’ other than, ‘My website.’ Being at the market also gives us exposure to people that normally may never know we exist.”
Although the pandemic brought challenges to the market, (non-food vendors had to close their booths for a time) for vendors like Peden and Merkely it has also been an opportunity to build a presence in the community without the commitment of a full-time shop.
“There are struggles and difficulties but, in the end, we all want the same thing—a place to share what we do best,” Merkely said. “Even when that thing is making nerdy, weird, artsy stuff.”
The Craft Revival
Also located in Thunder Bay is The Craft Revival, a seasonal market of local artisans that started in 2014. Maelyn Hurley, the founder of The Craft Revival, said that the idea started from a small home shopping get-together she hosted in her parents’ house. The first public event was held in Thunder Bay’s Waterfront District, and what Hurley thought would be a one-time event turned out to be a huge success that has progressively grown ever since, to over 25 locations and 5,000 shoppers at the last in-person event. At The Craft Revival, local vendors set up displays at participating businesses, and shoppers can spend the day visiting the various locations while enjoying food, drinks and live entertainment.
Although the pandemic brought a temporary halt to events, The Craft Revival decided to move online rather than pause altogether, and through online events has still been able to promote local artists.
“When we went online we saw more shoppers from outside the city and outside of Northwestern Ontario,” Hurley said. “It was really interesting to see the places people were coming from. Some of our vendors have followings on social media, and brought in shoppers from the U.S. and Europe.”
This November, The Craft Revival will be returning as a hybrid event, with an online shopping component followed by an in-person shopping day. While Hurley said that the in-person event may be a bit smaller, there should still be a good sampling of artists from around the area.
Hurley said it has been exciting to watch The Craft Revival grow and evolve from the first event to today. Looking ahead, Hurley said that they are incorporating to become a non-profit organization, and plan to continue being a way for shoppers to discover local artisans.
Joy & Company
At Joy & Company in Grand Marais, owner Jill Terrill has created a place that not only sells local artwork but also helps artists develop their careers. With a wide variety of locally made products and the largest selection of professional-grade art supplies in the area, Joy & Company seems to have something for everyone, from face creams to fine art. But more than that, it is a place where new artists can be supported in launching their careers.
“I’ve been making things since I was a little kid, but I also really like the business side,” Terrill said. “Sometimes, people who are making really love making but not the business aspect, so that’s where we partner with them.”
Some of the work the team at Joy & Company has done include mentoring artists on sourcing supplies, finding price points, naming their pieces, and helping them understand the business process. They are also currently working on adapting a space above the shop to be a studio and work space for local artisans and crafters.
Resident artist Rachel Klesser said, “Joy & Company is a place for rising artists. If you don’t have the tools you need, we will help you get them. We want people to be able to make their own money from their work, and we’re here to help.”
Part of Joy & Company’s goal is to help make Cook County a healthier place to live. Terrill said that the majority of their customers are Cook County residents, and the store has helped local vendors keep their families going during the shutdowns of the pandemic. Joy & Company has also created a line of greeting cards to support Hamilton Habitat Inc., a local nonprofit organization that is working to create affordable housing.
Additionally, while Joy & Company has helped many artists with business development, Terrill said that they also have worked with artists on developing their craft, and that selling art or getting into a gallery doesn’t always have to be the goal for crafters.
“Make because it makes you happy,” she said.
One of the newer shops along the North Shore, Superior Finds in Two Harbors opened its doors in 2020. Owner Sandy Knupp is an experienced store owner: Superior Finds is the fourth shop that she’s owned. Unlike her other experiences, however, the opening of Superior Finds was altered by the pandemic: the opening day was planned for May 1, 2020, when non-essential stores were still mandated to be closed. Knupp prepared and waited, and once the mandate was lifted she opened the doors of Superior Finds for the first time.
“A lot of people have asked about how hard it was to try to open during Covid, but what ended up happening was that the North Shore was so busy that summer that it was like the floodgates opening,” Knupp said.
While Knupp said that she is happy to welcome all the summer visitors, she also stressed the importance of being available to the local community. “I wanted to do something in Two Harbors that wasn’t the normal tourist gift shop,” Knupp said. “We’re open year-round, and the locals kept us going all last winter.”
At Superior Finds, shoppers will find a variety of merchandise including clothing, books, household goods, and outdoor gear. Among that, Knupp said that she has 43 consignors from Minnesota and Wisconsin that bring in weaving, pottery, and upcycled craft items.
“I love all my vendors,” Knupp said. “I couldn’t be doing it without them. And I love all the interesting people I get to meet—I have so many repeat customers and I enjoy getting to know them.”
Michelle Gratton is the owner of 47 Degrees, an art gallery and gift shop featuring local artists including painters, ceramicists, sculptors, and jewelers. For Gratton, an artist herself, it had been a lifelong dream to open a gallery, and in 2015 she turned that dream into a reality when she adapted a building she owned in Knife River to become 47 Degrees. The shop is open seasonally Friday through Sunday, which gives Gratton the time to balance running the shop with her own jewelry making.
“I love being in the gallery, from opening the door on Fridays all the way to saying goodbye to the last person out the door,” she said. “I have a nice mix of customers that are new and repeat. Knife River is a sweet, sleepy little village, and people tend to come up on the scenic route and be taking things at a slower pace.”
For Gratton, it was important to represent a mix of artistic mediums while also curating a cohesive feel to the shop. She aims to include affordable art and work that cannot be found in other nearby galleries, which gives customers who may be visiting multiple galleries and gift shops a more unique experience.