After working on new ministries for over a decade, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to initiate and implement authentic community. In Keokuk, we were also working on a thread of how to create alternative funding streams for ministry building. The store has been a largely theoretical endeavor due to the disruption in social habits COVID created.
BUT I have seen some lovely examples of what we are working to create.
A lady came in recently who is going through a huge life change. Her marriage has ended, except for the court battle. She has had to relocate, and is trying to do it with kids. She shared some of what she was up against. She wanted to refresh her clothing, and we had a great time finding her things that felt and looked great. That was about an hour of work together. In that time, we covered a lot of ground conversationally - I am pretty sure we are homies (friends) if she comes back in. She was encouraged. She was edified. So was I.
Another lady stopped through after visiting her family locally (not Eureka). She had a rough day and a long drive ahead. She had seen us coming through the intersection and had come back to visit. She was looking at the art and paintings primarily. She shared that it was a really tough visit with her family - her father had told her to never bother coming back. Apparently that is a long standing dynamic she just has to navigate. She is the scapegoat of their family. She lives very far away. I encouraged her and built her up as much as I could. We had a wonderful time.
And recently some kids have started visiting me. They called on the video "help button". But they mostly just wanted to chat. They had recently been through a break up. They had also had their first kiss. It was the sweetest thing. I told them I would like to give them a little something. They immediately asked if they could pick something for their mums. I definitely was not going to say no to that!
I have witnessed dozens of tables full of women, similar in age, community, faith background... sit silently with a printout of a Bible study in front of them, unable to utter a word about their lives, their struggles, their insights because the modality is broken. It simply does not work. Not well anyway.
I am working on an alternative. And enjoying the sweet moments along the way!
Three years ago this week we launched the Artisan Market in Eureka! I am so grateful we got 4 months before COVID shut it down, because the Lord showed us that there was a real viability! Aaaand then COVID came, and we were shut down.
We had expanded into our third unit in the building in January 2020 - hoping to start ministry groups and classes in the new year... but instead we immediately engaged the work of closing the class and studio area. In college, I had studied microbiology, and I knew that we were in for a longer road than initially indicated.
In the summer of 2020, we reopened, but almost no one was coming out shopping anymore. We staffed a few hours a week, but it was so slow. And we had a personal tragedy unfold that prevented Clyve and I from doing that staffing.... SO we sputtered along through the fall and winter, but it was never more than 10-30% of the business done pre-COVID. Staffing was tricky with finances in the red. We had someone present a few hours a day on the weekends, but shoppers were fewer and farther between as the local infection numbers climbed. I was telling everyone that I could not conceive of a way we would be able to stay in business; I was sure we needed to close it down.
But ironically, we just about had enough come in to cover our most basic expenses almost every month... so we kept going. It became harder to staff as the time was almost entirely without customers... that is psychologically difficult for everyone involved during a pandemic.
But our difficulties were only actually beginning. In 2021, my son became very ill, hospitalized with seizures and illness several times starting in January. And in August after another major seizure, we did close the store. I could not wrangle the work of it while just focusing on his well-being and healing. We had already moved out of the second unit in the building, and things looked bleak. So we were actually fully closed from August - December 2021.
We had been considering the self-checkout concept since summer 2020 - but finally got the most basic orchestration of it launched in mid-December 2021. Within a week or two of re-opening, the front of the building got boarded up for an overhaul! I was not particularly bothered by it being covered though, because the whole time it was boarded, I was testing, refining, and fiddling with the self-checkout set-up. (Apologies and gratitude to everyone who came in and revealed its flaws!)
For the last few months, we have had business that is at least starting to pick back up. It is still under 30% of the volume pre-COVID... but people have a more buoyant outlook, it seems. And we have had a lot of fun when I've gotten to work with customers. It is exactly what I had hoped - most folks receive the self-checkout concept with excitement, curiosity, and gratitude for more availability.
I know some folks will hate the idea. But by now, most people engage in many shopping iterations - both online and in person, self-payment is implicit in the retail landscape now. And some folks immediately started coming in during atypical shopping times. We've recently had some 1:30 AM shoppers, some 11:30 PM shoppers, a 5 AM shopper... and lots of 7:30-8 PM shoppers. Mostly moms and kids, ladies out enjoying their time, girls off a shift at a local restaurant, commuters through town on their way to work...
I did not actually like anything(!) about the self-checkout set-up until about a month ago - except that it allowed us to be actually open - lol. BUT I think we finally have it functional in every iteration. We offer Paypal, Venmo, and credit card kiosk onsite with Square. And we have an old-fashioned lockbox for cash. AND I can send an invoice to anyone who is uncomfortable with DIY - just send me a message on the number posted in the store. I am happy to help! And yes, myself or a helper is present frequently through the busier times of the week to help check-out and wrap up.
We have videos in the store to maintain the integrity of the experience. I have my number posted for help by the checkout. And as my son's health has improved, we have been able to be up there more consistently to work and refine the experience. And it has been SO FUN getting to enjoy our wonderful customers again with more regularity. Seriously - it is one of the sweetest things to me.
We have survived and grown and learned a lot over the last three years! Honestly, it was the hardest stretch of our life so far, and most of that had nothing with the business getting tanked by COVID lol. I am so grateful for all the Lord has done in our lives throughout this season, though. I feel 20 years more mature than I felt in 2019 lol - and that is never a bad thing in my book. Spiritually I am so much stronger.
I am honored and grateful to be able to continue this experiment in Eureka, and I humbly invite you to come and check it out!
Pricing items can seem arbitrary - as a professional in retail, there are a gazillion reasons that prices get set - fabrication and transportation costs, materials, marketing...etc.
In a store like ours, when an item is sourced / donated, I often research similar items in online marketplaces (Ebay, Poshmark, etc) and price it LOWER than online in the store. I always want there to be incentive to visiting in-person! And when looking online, one must remember that shipping is a baked-in expense that can't be overlooked.
Having a store like the ETC Shop in town can lead people to believe that used clothing is only worth $1-$5... HOWEVER, the market for high quality clothing is usually much higher! I have been amazed by how the clothing market actually can sometimes hold value, even APPRECIATE and increase in value! In the early 2000's, I resold vintage exclusively online. I would definitely prefer to focus on blessing, serving, and developing ministry with local folks rather than just selling clothes in online markets.
We are VERY aware of Eureka economics, however, and have CHOSEN to primarily function out of our local storefront. And in Eureka, we have as many people think seriously about whether to purchase a $5 or $10 item, as we have refresh their wardrobe for $80 -$200 a visit... BOTH are representative of our area, and I am choosing to serve both.
So I am working hard to offer a wonderful experience for our area patrons. We have crafted this place for anyone that wants to have some time to relax, edify and encourage themselves and one another, and find a piece that feels like a garment of praise!
We have a sale room now full of pieces at or below $5, and we brought in tons of $5 costume jewelry. And I will continue to bring in exceptional pieces, artisan made, and vintage (including even fur coats that will run well over $100 each). I think it's a very fun blend (and a strategy I saw very successful in Chicago-land boutiques.)
AND of course - if you ever have any questions or think something is meant for you but at a different price point, you can always contact me! My number is posted in the store. My goal is to bless.
Why a store? The Scriptures offer a clear pathway for ministry planting through the work of Paul. He would move to an area and engage in his craft (tent making) while forming connections and teaching about the faith of the Christ. He affiliated with fine cloth merchants to build ministry!
Why emphasize apparel? Apparel is considered throughout Scripture as an expression of praise, honor, and a blessing the Lord provides to His people. "Garments of praise, garments of splendor" are to be used to edify ourselves and express honor of the Lord. Edification is the call of the Christ-follower. We are to encourage one another and support each other with love and care in this world. We are to "outdo one another showing honor." One of the primary ways the Lord shows honor and expects humans to show honor is through apparel!
Why decor? Scripture is to be applied to our lives, used as adornment, placed throughout our homes and workplaces, and considered throughout each and every day. We are to acknowledge the Lord in ALL our ways. (Much of our handmade jewelry and art and decor is made with this in mind!)
This is an experiment and an obedient following of the Lord's direction. We are instructed clearly to humble ourselves and learn from the Lord without considering ourselves wise! It is vital for us to continue learning, growing, and striving - for servanthood, for peace, for our own salvation, growing in the cultivation of the Lord. All the while, we must be rejecting harm, condemnation, judgement, scorn, division, and accusation. Even when it comes to our shopping habits, time with friends, going out and about, setting up our homes, and even being alone with ourselves. We are creating something that is fundamentally welcoming, humble, ethical, creative, edifying, and relies on and encourages generosity!
So I went to college on art scholarship amongst other interests. Art as an academic and museum trajectory engagement is interesting, but I will be honest it was a little more obtuse than I was able to enjoy. Outside of academic art there is a volume of artsy work and artsy stuff that is lovely to do and lovely to share. Artisan / artisanal work is essentially any practice of adding creativity to utility / lifestyle needs.
(The Spirit of the Lord is upon us to...)
To grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3
I have asked this question so many times over the last couple years!
Over the course of humanity, and the course of Christianity, the creativity of the species has represented an intersection of the spiritual with the natural. The Church is responsible for supporting and encouraging this expression for the edification of the Body of Christ. Great visionaries like Michaelangelo, Bach, DaVinci and countless others have been supported and commissioned through the resources of people of faith.