Three years ago Kelly and I opened the doors to our first love, Pittsburgh store in Mount Washington. In honor of this milestone, I'm sharing the story of how we got here, and the fun, failures, and friends we've made along the way.
When we tell the story of how we began love, Pittsburgh, folks are usually surprised to learn that Kelly and I knew each other for just a few months before deciding to open a store together.
At an unlikely place, a networking event talking about technology is where Kelly and I were introduced by our friend Kim Chestney. Lucky for us, we had much in common. One of our first conversations was about wanting a place to shop where we knew everything was from a Pittsburgh artist.
I was running a crafting business at the time and in search of a studio. Based on a tip from a friend, I knew the storefront where we are in Mount Washington was coming available. With its beautiful windows and great curb appeal, I thought it would be better suited as a gift shop, and passed on the opportunity.
Quickly it donned on me that there could be potential for creating the very gift shop that Kelly and I discussed at our first meeting. Since our introduction we had met up a few times, to visit each other's home studios and over tea at Black Forge. At our next tea meet up I told Kelly I wanted to open a local-focused gift shop. She loved the idea, and we jumped into a partnership together.
It's safe to say we had minimal experience running a store, let alone starting one from scratch. The beginnings of our business existed in many scrapped together google docs, the first draft of a business plan, and a list of artists who we wanted to carry in the shop. We started with 40 Pittsburgh-based artists, taking a blind stab at what and how much to order. Immediately we felt the benefits of working with local artists, their kindness, flexibility, and sincere support for our mission.
Double the Love
Within a year of opening the Mount Washington store, a new location came on the horizon. With a dash more of luck and good timing, the universe connected us with a storefront coming available in the heart of the Cultural District.
I think the combination of the freshness of how to open a store still in our minds, and the naivete of what an expansion requires allowed us to move swiftly and without hesitation into Downtown. And we couldn't be happier being there, able to reach different customers and have the energy of bustling Liberty Ave at our doorstep.
Just Popping In
A few months later when we opened our third location, a pop-up store located Downtown in the Oliver Building, we were seasoned pros at opening shops. We'd expanded to a team of 10, and were working long hours bouncing between stores.
The Oliver Building allowed us to experiment with adding more food to our mix, and it was the reason we started carrying Leona's ice cream sandwiches. The six-month pop-up came and went without making a huge splash, and it felt like the right conclusion exiting it after the holiday bustle. While it was a funky spot that didn't fully match our aesthetic, it was fun to experience another nook of Pittsburgh in a lovely historic building.
Focus for the Future
After turning the page on the Oliver Building location, we had much needed time back in our schedules to focus on our existing stores. From this we started working on more collaborations, exclusive products, as well as honing in on what we stand for, supporting local artists.
We were able to showcase a curated art wall with the collaboration of Small Mall, create a line of gift boxes for corporate clients, and enjoy every Gallery Crawl with a cup of champagne tucked behind the counter. We even got to partner with Amy of Garbella and share a chalet at the Holiday Market in Market Square.
Our artist base has now expanded to over 100, and we are continually adding new items and people to the mix. Kelly and I realized how much we enjoy putting our creative sides to work, developing products based on customer feedback and needs. We hope to be able to continue to do this more and work on even more artist collaborations the further we make it down this road.
Three Years and Counting
Here we are, celebrating our three year anniversary under the most unexpected circumstances. It's humbling to have so much that is outside of your control impact your business, and even more so to see the real risks that frontline workers are taking every day just to perform their duties.
Though the last few months have been trying in many ways, we are overcome with gratitude for the rallying of our customers who virtually "stepped in" and shopped with us because they believe in local and in supporting small businesses. It's given us hope and resolve to continue our mission to support Pittsburgh artists, contribute to our local economy, and spread some love all around this city.
We are thankful for where we've come from, the spark of an idea between fast friends, and how far we've come, a store that feels like we are making a difference for Pittsburgh artists. We can't wait to see what else is down this winding, hilly, pothole-filled Pittsburgh road.
Thank you for coming along on the ride, and for being a CHAMPION OF LOCAL.