By Ryan Phillips

Thanks to a collective push by the local business community and citizens, the road has been paved in Tuscaloosa for unorthodox, yet appealing business models.  In one downtown location, a large collaboration of local art is available under one roof to keep local dollars in Tuscaloosa and finance the people that give local art its flavor.

For someone like Scott McQueen, who is a full-time Pastor at Lakewood Baptist Church in Northport and co-owns Cedar House Crafts with his wife Jackie, the opportunities are available in one local venue to bring his art to citizens of Tuscaloosa.

 

Enter the Maker’s Market.

“I enjoy putting my art [at Maker’s Market], first the owners are nice folks to work with and they are very civic conscious and do a lot in terms of going out of their way to try to encourage the community of business to come together and work together,” he said. “ It is unique, for my community at least. It gives me a great opportunity to show my wares that I would otherwise not have, so it has opened some doors. A lot of customers come in and see what I’ve got and it continues to grow exponentially.”

Reminiscent of a flea market, this seemingly hidden 22nd Street location features crafts made and sold by 110 different local West Alabama vendors, all of whom rent space as opposed to operating on commission, according to owner Beth Milis. Each space is able to function without the vendor present and business cards are available at each for the customer to have contact with the “maker”.

“We rent by the square foot rather than a commission-based thing,” she said. “Having done something like this before, if you give 40-50% to someone else, then you will never get ahead, even if your cost of goods is zero. If you rent space, you can distribute that cost towards everything in your booth and no one feels cheated.”

Opened in August of 2012, The Maker’s Market has since attempted to boost the local economy by providing an atypical business model aimed at bringing in local entrepreneurial artists.

McQueen, who mainly focuses on crafts made of used license plates, has found success in the local market through his unique brand of art.

“What got me started in all this, I had a room in my house with a big blank wall and had a bunch of old car tags and got the idea that I would cover that wall with car tags in a decorative way,” he said. “So I went to a buddy who had a junk yard and I went and took the car tags off of the old cars and when I finished I had about 20 or 30 tags lefts and it came to mind that I could cut those car tags and make something out of it. Somebody saw it, liked it and the rest is history.”

Growing up, artistic ability seemed to come naturally, he said. Given his profession within the church, McQueen also said he has been able to connect his faith with his art.

“I’ve always drawn and doodled and used a lot of that in church work over the years,” he said. “My dad did oil paintings growing up so I grew up around that. It is just an outlet for me. I don’t golf, hunt or fish, I like to draw and paint. So that is kind of how it developed—I try to let my faith shine through my art in one way or the other and it’s something I use as an extension of my faith.

When she was starting out, owner Beth Milis had never sold crafts until working at a source of inspiration in Detroit. The plan came together after a hobby turned into a way to pay the bills.

“I have been quilting for about 15 years, but I had never sold anything until I was there,” she said. “My husband worked for Sam’s Club, so we moved around a lot and when we moved to Illinois, I could not find a job and was bored out of my mind. Then my mom brought me my grandma’s sewing machine, and it all started there.”

According to Milis, the mantra of her establishment is to offer a personal shopping experience while keeping local dollars in Tuscaloosa. At the Maker’s Market, emphasis is put towards community connection through art.

“We try to encourage people to shop local, and with local folks and hand made stuff that is often purchased over the Internet, it is cost effective but it is impersonal and I think there are a lot of people out there who want to touch stuff before they buy it,” she said. “People like to know they are helping someone in the community because they may know them or go to church with them. I think people really like knowing their money is staying here and when the vendors get money, their money stays here.”

Milis then said that through the colorful blend of crafts sold by vendors, many different styles are presented to appeal to a wide range of tastes. For fans of hand-made gifts with a southern feel, including everything from personally crafted duck calls to crocheted bracelets, this place is heaven.

“We are very diverse in terms of the crafts our vendors make and sell,” she said. “We have five potters here, but each one of them is different.  We have a lot of people doing jewelry and quilts, but everyone is different.”

As artists promote themselves via The Maker’s Market, Milis said, the local attitude has evolved and welcomed each craftsperson into the fold of the business and art communities

“I think in having a place like this and having more art available, more people are willing to come out and show off their crafts. Tuscaloosa is definitely embracing these artists more.”

McQueen, who has been a vendor at the Maker’s Market for a little over a year, pointed to local talent that deserves recognition and said that it is reflective of the downtown business renaissance.

“It is good to see the locals involved with arts and crafts and I would love to see more local talent along with outside talent from outside the community, “ he said. “I appreciate makers market because they give west Alabama talent that opportunity. I can just saw from a consumer standpoint, I really like what Tuscaloosa is doing for the downtown district and appreciate everyone who is playing a role in that. I’m glad to see our downtown is being revitalized and as a citizen of the community it is just great. “

Despite the success had by Milis at the Maker’s Market, she said that the location could easily go overlooked, given its downtown location on the same block as a new Which Wich restaurant.

“Our biggest obstacle is where we are at,” she said. “There have never really been retail outlets here and when people see our address on 22nd avenue, they often miss us, even for people who have lived in Tuscaloosa their whole lives.”

Enjoying your work is crucial in any field, and for Milis, her own art is a source of joy along with providing opportunities to other local artists.

“I like recycled stuff, anything that is kind of different,” she said. “I love the state and Alabama pride crafts but the recycled crafts are my favorite. Its just my preference, quilting is kind of recycling too—Recycling is just something I have always thought we needed to do.”

For those interested in visiting the Maker’s Market, it is located at 401 22nd Avenue and is a short walk from Wilhagen’s and Green Bar. To learn more, call 561.6666.

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