Local craft start-up finds a home for NC artists on Geer Street
A few aspects stand out in particular when we look at Durham today. There’s the homegrown, DIY aesthetic; the arts scene, which we never fail to laud for its vibrant and collaborative nature; the creative entrepreneurship (which demands some oomph); and the community to tie it all together.
The Makery has successfully navigated its way through all of these. Its permanent space, shared with Mercury Studio and in the same building as Motorco, opened February 8. It’s versatile, serving as a place to foster ideas, creations and business. There’s a section for artists to work or lead workshops, a display area and a spot left open for concerts or culinary tastings in the future. It’s a curated space, designed to increase Durham’s collaborative creativity.
When North Carolina native Krista Anne Nordgren was in college in Illinois, she realized that her sister, as well as several of her friends, were “making cool things but struggling to get sales.” Assured that the problem was not in the artwork itself, and observing the success of the then-new Groupon, Nordgren, along with her two sisters, began thinking about how the flash model, as well as the economic principle of buying locally, could be useful for handmade products. She and her sisters went on to win The Smoffice competition (The World’s Smallest Office, a charming getup that was on display along Main Street for a while), which worked to encourage entrepreneurs to bring their projects to Durham.
“Downtown Durham is changing really rapidly right now. There’s a huge influx of interest from businesses that aren’t local to Durham and also businesspeople local to North Carolina,” Nordgren said.
With the winnings, which included a free apartment, Nordgren moved back to Durham to spearhead The Makery. The virtual store has operated as an online business since September 2012, and it has had a far-enough reach to garner orders from all over the states, as well as Canada and even England. The focus was solely on the North Carolinian handmade: each week, there’s a different profile on a North Carolina maker and the creations that the Nordgrens curate for sale.
Eventually, Nordgren grew close with the owners of Mercury Studio, another downtown art and work space that was located on Mangum Street. When the studio decided to move locations, it had a large retail space and nothing specific in mind to fill it, so Mercury and Makery decided to merge forces and share the new location.
Reminiscent of Berenbaum’s, the food concept that helped put on some pop-up restaurants and eventually bought Ninth Street Bakery, The Makery hosted a pop-up shop over the holidays as an experiment. The ensuing success cemented their decision to open up a physical location. After all, to have this space would only enhance the connections that The Makery hopes to foster: artist-to-artist, seller to buyer, community member to community member.
“In terms of community building, there’s nothing like having a physical location where people can stop by,” Nordgren said. “It’s important to carve out a space for artists and makers in this kind of artistic community, to have a voice downtown.”
Nordgren describes this store as an extension of the website: both elevate North Carolina-made works, and both promote the more conscientious consumer habit to buy locally. The website, light, eye-catching and leaning toward the minimalistic, smooths out the arduous process of finding the specific locally made work that you want. (Just think about how arduous it can be to search through Etsy, and how overwhelming and infrequent craft fairs are.) The Makery finds unique works made by committed, talented artists, and then curates them to the benefit of both buyer and seller.
The new store takes this a step further. They’ve collected some vintage items, all made or found by people who live in North Carolina. More notably, artists who live a few blocks away from the store can now sell their works to someone who might live a couple of minutes in the opposite direction.
Nordgren’s father, Carl Nordgren, is a Markets and Management professor at Duke, and his course on creative entrepreneurship focuses on making the most generative and creative version of yourself. He selected a handful of different local organizations for groups of his students to work with, including The Makery.
“[The Makery] seemed like a really great way to bring people, and local artists, together,” senior Flora Muglia, who chose to work with The Makery, said.
Muglia cited Durham’s ranking as the most creative city in the U.S., explaining that nowadays, it pays to be creative and to be able to navigate different mindsets toward improvement and innovation. Start-ups, especially for arts organizations, have grown with time and technology to play a prominent role in society—Durham, and the exciting prospects of The Makery, reflect that trend.
Looking forward, Nordgren, satisfied with the new physical space, plans to continue supporting local makers and thriving on community-supported commerce.
“Not only can local artists demonstrate or create work [at The Makery], but they can also put themselves out there and to sell their art,” Muglia said. “But I think the idea of having this space where local North Carolinian artists and makers can get together, that’s something I haven’t heard of elsewhere…Oftentimes being an artist or maker can be devalued. This creates a safe and awesome space for people to work together and also to sell together.”