Toni Fabrick with Fabs Faeries is reflected in a mirror in the… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
Walk into Pristine Antiques, Collectibles & Gifts in Taneytown, and you'll see a hodgepodge of products.
There's Toni Fabrick's custom-made fascinators, the whimsical mini-hats anchored on headbands, hanging on a display in the window. Nearby are Annie DeGeorge's hand-carved wooden Santa figurines and purses made from salvaged sweaters.
"I've had spaces in 12 different antique malls in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and this is the only place where I've made an appreciable amount of money," said DeGeorge, who has been renting shelf space in Priscilla Shoap's store for a year. "She sells the stuff."
More than 20 artists, jewelers and craftspeople run mini-businesses at Pristine — and get marketing advice from Shoap.
She describes the setup as an arts incubator, a facility that helps to develop the cottage businesses of her dealers while complementing her more traditional retail store.
Unlike a traditional consignment arrangement — in which a seller and a shopowner split the proceeds of a sale — the vendors at Pristine pay upfront monthly fees to rent space at the store. That business model gives the artists a greater "stake in making money here," Shoap said.
The sour economy has left artists in Maryland and across the country looking for new ways to make money. They are selling at craft shows for the first time, or setting up businesses on Etsy.com, a popular online store for artisans and other crafters.
And they are turning to creative incubators, facilities that draw on a model traditionally associated with tech startups, and which now are cropping up to help artists and artisans to become more effective promoters and sellers of their work.
While such entrepreneurial spirit is not new, the recession has prompted some part-time artists and craftspeople to rethink their hobby or creative outlet.
"Every time there's been high unemployment, in my experience, people come into the marketplace, and that's a wonderful opportunity," said Wendy Rosen, founder of the nonprofit The Arts Business Institute in Baltimore, which provides business education for creative entrepreneurs. "People who have had great skills in craft and only used it as a hobby all of a sudden realize that, 'Oh, my God, this could be my business.'"
There are at least six incubators nationwide that focus exclusively on artists, according to the National Business Incubation Association. Many more work with artists among other clients.
Rosen founded the Mill Centre, a complex of art studios in a former Hampden cotton mill, 25 years ago to help creative types start businesses.
The Allegany Arts Council sponsors an artist cooperative at the Canal Place Shops in Cumberland, where some 30 artists, photographers, potters and jewelers in Western Maryland can sell their artwork and develop business skills, said Andy Vick, the council's executive director.
Shoap developed her idea when she bought some large showcases from a candy and card store in Westminster that went out of business two years ago. Shoap figured she could try to rent some of the space to draw new products and create some excitement for her business on Taneytown's main business corridor on East Baltimore Street. Shoap charges as little as $25 a month for a jewelry showcase to up to $100 for larger space.
The incubator concept grew. Shoap began mentoring and providing advice on running a business to her dealers, some of whom were trying to sell their work for the first time. While Shoap doesn't take a cut of sales, she still sees her job as trying to market her dealers' products to her customers.
"We don't want a shop full of stuff that doesn't sell," Shoap said. "If they don't sell within three months, it's evident that they're doing something wrong. It's priced wrong or their art is not necessarily what customers are looking for. My goal is to have them succeed."
With the support of Taneytown's economic development office, dealers at Pristine Antiques also can take advantage of city-sponsored business workshops and other networking events.
Taneytown is a participant in Main Street Maryland, a state program that aims to revitalize small towns and cities by providing training for local redevelopment officials and grants and loans for businesses.
"A lot of people can't afford overhead or the time, but they have a product or item to showcase and sell," said Nancy McCormick, Taneytown's director of economic development. "It's a jump-start for someone who's serious about the business to get exposure and experience."
Fabrick began selling her fascinators and custom-made barrettes, hairpieces and fairy wings on Etsy 18 months ago. Shoap, who saw Fabrick's products at a craft show, persuaded the mother of five to give brick-and-mortar retail a try.
Fabrick has been renting space for $50 a month since December.
"It's taken my business to a different level," said Fabrick, who also works part time at a home improvement store and runs the family farm with her husband. "It took me out of being a crafter into something more real."
With the royal wedding last month generating interest in fascinators, Fabrick said, her sales at Pristine are starting to cover her monthly rent and provide some additional income that she puts back into her business.
One day, Fabrick hopes to open her own store, similar to Shoap's.
"I'm getting closer now and learning from Priscilla on what it takes," she said.