Hand crafters hit a milestone on Friday. The Denton Independent Makers Exchange celebrates one year of brisk business at its first bricks-and-mortar storefront.
The local shop will mark the anniversary by inviting customers to make party hats by hand and toasting the town with local beer.
“The whole thing came about so organically to begin with,” said Rachel Aughtry, who shares ownership and management of the store with Shelley Christner. “We did the [Denton] community market together and then started doing shows together. Then the shows got really big and we opened the store. The plan was just to go and do the best we could.”
The DIME Store started as Etsy Denton, a collective of artists and craftsmen and women who managed their own stores online at Etsy.com, a popular and successful website that connects shoppers, artists and craftsmen from all over the world. The collective staged one-day bazaars at the Center for the Visual Arts and other Denton spots where there was enough room for upwards of 70 makers to set up a booth. Aughtry graduated from University of North Texas right smack-dab in the middle of the recession, and decided to try her hand at selling the fashionable handbags, clutches and purses she makes with little more than simple materials, a sewing machine and a keen eye for design. Christner is the creative director and a designer at Home Again, Home Again, a local furniture and decor business. At the DIME Store, Aughtry is lord of the spreadsheet and Christner is the customer service specialist, an arrangement that also came about naturally.
“We didn’t have any great big business expectations. It’s hard to have expectation when you don’t even know what’s a possibility,” Christner said. “There are other business models that are similar, but not necessarily just like this. We expected it to go well.”
The model is simple. Aughtry and Christner curate the handmade stock they think will sell — with an eagle eye toward both craftsmanship and design — and then sell it while promoting the artisans who make the stock.
“That’s absolutely still at the core of what we do,” Aughtry said. “There are other things that have changed that we thought we were going to offer, [such as] art workshops. We ended up not having enough draw for that.”
They also discovered an immediate appetite for merchandise made here.
“We opened with maybe two Denton-specific items,” Aughtry said. “Now we have five, maybe six different Denton-specific T-shirts, and an entire table that is all Denton stuff. Not even Texas stuff, just Denton stuff. When we opened we just had two cards with Denton people on them. So that was a niche market within the handmade market. We didn’t understand there was such a need for that, so we evolved to meet that.”
The perks of having a bricks-and-mortar outlet for North Texas makers has been in social capital, too.
“I love that we definitely have a community amongst our shoppers — they might not even know each other,” Aughtry said. “On a Saturday, there are all these people in here and it’s a really friendly atmosphere. And we built a community amongst our makers. When we were doing our shows, everyone was like ‘oh, hey, how’re you doing?’ We realized that they didn’t know one another, and we’ve known all of them for years. We realized that was kind of a failure, and that we needed to connect the makers. We’re really proud of that, because the makers know each other now, and it’s helped them grow.”
The DIME Store has broadened its selection of handmade goods, developing its inventory of clothes, jewelry, furniture and home accessories.
“We started off with 26 [vendors],” Christner said. “Predominantly, we’re buying wholesale in here. Now, we have work by over 40 people. It’s not quite doubled.”
Christner and Aughtry have intentionally included their peers in Denton’s small businesses in their events and sales. Denton food trucks, such as the Pickled Carrot, have parked along Locust Street during Saturday sales.
Christner said customers appreciate knowing that the items they buy were made by people who live in their city and their region.
“To see people be so satisfied with the things we have here, their appreciation of handmade [work] … that’s gratifying,” she said. “They’ll be in here and they be like ‘I love this’ and you’ll tell them ‘I made that’ and they say ‘You did? Wow! That’s so awesome!’ To have that face-to-face with people, to know that they are finding something they love and they got to meet the maker, that’s been so special.”
The shopkeepers are looking to the future with the same flexibility and open-mindedness they adopted when they opened their doors.
“I’m making handbags now, but handbags made out of canvas and fabric might not be cool in five years,” Aughtry said. “And then what do I do? But kind of without thinking, you just evolve to what works. There will always be people that make crafts. There have been craft shows forever and there have always been people who have attended them. … I think there will always be a want for things that are from your town and that have a sense of place.”
DIME STORE BIRTHDAY BASH & BACKYARD BAZAAR
What: a two-day party for creatives and makers of the Denton Independent Makers Exchange and shoppers
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: The DIME Store, 510 S. Locust St.
On the Web: www.dimehandmade.com
THINGS TO DO
What to do at the DIME Store’s Birthday Bash & Backyard Bazaar
On Friday, enjoy a pint of Armadillo Ale Works Quakertown Stout served in a souvenir glass bearing Armadillo’s logo on one side & the DIME Store’s on the other. Make and take a party hat.
On Saturday, check out the shop’s growing selection of handmade items crafted in Denton, an peruse the backyard bazaar that closes at 5 p.m. Make and take a party hat, watch Pan-Ector Industries make screen printed T-shirts on site and take souvenir photos in the free photo booth.