A short walk from the Damen Blue Line stop, past Milwaukee Avenue and the 606, is a new Chicago attraction called the Chicago Makers Pop Up Shop that opened its doors on Oct. 6, 2021.
The store is artistically crowded with jewelry, soap, plants, photography, cutting boards, dog treats, mugs, stickers, embroidery, coffee and more — all homemade or homegrown by local artists.
From one corner, David and Moira Rose cut-outs from the hit show “Schitt’s Creek” keep watch over the store. References to the show can be found scattered throughout the shop, left over from a Rose Apothecary pop-up that many of the makers participated in with Replay Bar in Lincoln Park earlier this year.
This store is at 2064 N. Damen Ave., one of three locations. Another store in West Town, at 1821 W. Chicago Ave., also opened on Oct. 6 and a final Wicker Park location, at 1279 N. Milwaukee Ave., will open in early November. The stores are open from 12-7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 12-6 p.m. on Sundays with an option to reserve private tours after hours, and they will stay open until Dec. 23, 2021.
The owners, Anna Romo and Monica Little, first met at the beginning of 2020 through their small businesses: Virtue Alchemy Candle Co. and Plant Based Beauty, respectively. Their relationship began as a friendship and networking opportunity, but turned into more as the pandemic hit and markets started to close. They sensed a need for a space for local businesses to promote their products, Romo said.
The first pop-up, in Wicker Park, all came together in the span of two weeks and opened on November 1, 2020. It was a huge success, with lines out of the door. Next came a Bucktown version in January, and the Rose Apothecary joint effort with Replay, Romo said.
Over the summer, Covid-19 regulations relaxed and makers transitioned back to markets as they reopened. Now that the weather is cooling and the holidays are approaching, the Chicago Makers Pop Up Shop is back.
The three stores display items from almost 100 small businesses. On top of that, the store’s Facebook group consists of over 700 small business owners, all in Chicago. They stick with 30 vendors at a time at each location to keep things personal, according to Romo.
“That way we’re actually able to get to know them as people, as business owners, what are their dreams and goals, how can we help them accomplish those dreams and goals,” Romo said. “And we offer more than just shelf space if people want it — we offer coaching and networking, collaborating and extra opportunities.”
Romo said that it’s been awesome to get to know this group of people.
“Every product and small business has its own special flair,” Romo said. “The person who’s making them adds their own special touch, and has their own intention, their own drive.”
Tammy Riegel sells professional photographs of landscapes, flowers, wildlife and more. She was an art school graduate working as an account management contractor when she got burnt out and wanted to explore something new. Luckily, she had a large collection of photos to pull from her frequent travels with her husband, who works at an airline, and turned that hobby into a job.
The daughter of a beekeeper, Rachael Sloan, used her knowledge and experience with her father’s 25-year hobby to create a soap-making business called Nature’s Trace Co. When she and her husband moved to the Independence Park neighborhood of Chicago, they managed to fit beehives and a garden into their small apartment lot.
“I’ve always loved handmade soaps,” Sloan said. “I love the way they smell, how they feel, and I had all of this beeswax, honey and flowers, and I was like, why don’t I try to just make my own?”
Phil Wingo was searching for a job when he developed an interest in coffee roasting. After reading some books and experimenting with different blends and regional tastes, he took his coffee to local farmers markets under the Sandhill brand. A fan of the outdoors, he sees coffee as a way for people to connect to others and to nature, he said.
Since starting up, these owners and their businesses have evolved and also been shaped by Covid-19. Riegel was discovered over Instagram and was able to do one show before the pandemic.
“I kind of got the bug to do more shows and then Covid hit and shut everything down,” she said. “But I have started doing it again.”
Sloan’s soap business, on the other hand, actually benefited from the pandemic. She was already operating mostly online, so she didn’t have to adapt much of her process.
“I think we all needed beautiful things, and soap is just very simple,” she said. “A lot of people call it a little luxury — everybody needs soap.”
She also started making limited-edition travel bars using scents and ingredients from around the world. Some of these, with rose scent, were displayed in the Rose Apothecary pop-up.
Wingo was ready to transition from selling online to opening a café at the beginning of 2020. Instead, he picked a middle ground and went mobile.
“I got a concession trailer that I can tow with my car, and it’s a full café on wheels,” he said. “It has an espresso machine, and I serve cold brew and coffee, and I got connected with a local baker.”
Through the changes, many found it was helpful to rely on some support from family, friends and their community. Wingo hired a team of five part-time employees who allow the business to “be in more places at once,” and Riegel’s husband has always tagged along on their photography adventures. Sloan said her husband helps behind the scenes, her best friend designs her packages and her neighbors come together when she needs extra hands.
“I had a giant order for the field museum last year — just hundreds of the bars — and I told my neighbors, who wants to come to a soap wrapping party?” she said. “This was pre-pandemic. And they came. And we sat around and we wrapped bars of soap for hours and it was amazing. So even though it is a one-woman show, I have a lot of love and support from people like that who pitch in when I need them to.”
Still, it’s a big investment — “all the things and not all the time,” Sloan said.
Owning a business comes with a lot of creativity and agency as these entrepreneurs have shown, but the flip side is it can take a lot of time and effort to make the essential connections that move the process forward. This is where the Chicago Makers Pop Up Shop comes in.
All of the makers emphasized the Chicago Makers Facebook group as a huge support structure and connection point. For some, it was the way they found out about the pop-up market and started selling.
“They’re very outgoing and very inclusive and try to get everybody talking to each other,” Riegel said. “Before them, I didn’t really know how to reach out and meet other makers like this in the community. If there’s another community that exists out there like the one that they’ve set up, I don’t know about it.”
Romo said she was glad to provide “a lot of collective networking power.”
“All of a sudden the world starts to shrink,” she said. “It’s really nice. We want to help foster collaboration and partnership so it’s been really cool to see it happening.”
Romo’s hope is to help the businesses under her umbrella and get the word out about the shops while they’re here.
“We just hope that everyone thinks of us when they start looking for spooky home decor,” she said. “We have pumpkins and gourds, we’ve got some cute and spooky stickers and pins, earrings, jewelry, candles … It’s like the perfect one-stop shop.”