How Makers Mercantile is Empowering a Craft Business Revival in West Duluth
You could almost think of a new Duluth store called Makers Mercantile as the crafty website Etsy come to life. And that’s what Makers Mercantile, which opened in September, is providing: a new kind of market for local craftspeople and their varied wares. At the same time, it’s helping rejuvenate a part of town that has lost numerous businesses.
Located in the West Duluth neighborhood of Spirit Valley, just a few blocks off I-35, Makers Mercantile is another bloom in the ever-flowering craft business scene on the North Shore. The new “craft business district” in the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, where outdoor gear producers, brewers and clothing makers are flourishing, is just one expression of that phenomenon. So are the “folk schools” in Duluth and Grand Marais that teach students blacksmithing, basket weaving, and even cordwaining (the old-school term for shoemaking). On Superior’s shores, inspiring natural beauty and long, dark winters lead a great many people to craft their own pottery, canoes, jewelry, greeting cards, jams and artwork. And many of these craftspeople have found a market for what they make.
“People are starting to value things that are made by actual people—things that are well made and one of a kind,” says Sara Clifton, who co-founded Makers Mercantile recently with her husband Scott Clifton.
In a sense, Makers Mercantile is a collection of businesses. It brings together the work of roughly 30 local and North Shore-based producers of handmade art, jewelry, decor and functional goods, including bags, prints, soaps and pillows. Their products, which Makers Mercantile sells on consignment, are displayed and curated by the Cliftons. The couple moved to Duluth about eight years ago.
“We fell in love with the North Shore and the area,” Sara Clifton recalls. What’s more, “we’re makers ourselves.” The Cliftons’ own work comprises wood dÃ©cor. A couple of years back, noticing that “there were so many artisans in this area,” Sara and her husband decided to create a single shop where people could find all sorts of locally made products, both functional goods and more artistic items.
The Cliftons rent space from another local artisanal couple, Anna and Nathanael Bailey. Their business, Bailey Builds, creates one-of-a-kind art pieces from reclaimed wood.
The storefront where Makers Mercantile operates is a former gas station. The Cliftons have made the space more attractive by adding reclaimed barn wood and exposing an old chimney.
The shop’s location has a special meaning for Sara Clifton. Though she didn’t grow up in Duluth, she does have ties to Spirit Valley neighborhood. Her mother grew up there, and her grandfather owned a hardware store that was across the street from Makers Mercantile is located.
It’s early yet, but the response to their new shop, Sarah Clifton says, has “been fantastic.” The locals, she says, like to support local businesses. “The people in the neighborhood have been so excited about new life coming to our space,” Clifton adds.
Makers Mercantile is currently open Thursday through Saturday. The Cliftons hope to expand those hours in the future. In addition to Makers Mercantile, Scott Clifton works as an engineer at Cirrus Aircraft; Sarah Clifton runs the company (and also keeps busy with the couple’s two young children). When time permits, the Cliftons continue to run their wood dÃ©cor business, Spruce and Stone Design.
Sara Clifton sees Makers Mercantile as a platform for regional makers to be highlighted and discovered. “We also want to inspire those who walk through the door,” she says. “And we aim for the shop to feel like a slice of the North Shore.”