When future generations of Basalt merchants look back on Aug. 22, 2013, will they remember it as the day that the exodus of businesses to Willits stopped? The day the downtown core of this mid-valley burg regained some of the vitality and funk of its glory days?
Shae Singer certainly hopes they will.
Singer is the founder of the Basalt Emporium and Flying Circus, a new business in downtown Basalt that sells the work of nearly 40 local artists, food producers, candle makers, and craftspeople of all stripes. There’s also a farm stand featuring local jams, jellies, honey, pickles and other local produce, along with a year-round flower shop.
Singer’s business is modeled after her successful Aspen shop of the same name, a venture that opened as an incubator for small, local artists and craftspeople looking for a place to sell their work. The shop now features work from more than 60 artists, and serves as a way for local business people to share the overhead of a brick and mortar retail space.
When Singer opened her Basalt location on Aug. 22, the Basalt Town Council was so pleased that they passed a resolution declaring the date “Basalt Emporium and Flying Circus Day” forevermore.
“The idea is that the Aspen Emporium houses so many artists and vendors, and we wanted to open it up downvalley and try and reach some more people,” Singer said.
The store is based on the notion that people who are good at making art don’t always have the time or skills to sell it.
“Artists and painters are really creative, but they’re not necessarily good at selling their product or anyone else’s product,” she said.
Artists or producers who want to sell at the Emporium pay a small fee to help cover overhead and sales tax, then set their own prices and keep the proceeds from sales.
Every artists signs a one year contract and Singer decides whether to renew it, so the stores are constantly rotating in new products and art work. Since the Aspen store opened in 2011 it has served as an incubator for several businesses that have since achieved wider distribution, including In the Soup’s line of prepared soups, Mrs. Barrs Granola and Leaf People Skin Care.
For Singer, expanding into downtown Basalt is like coming home: She founded the Sashay flower shop 25 years ago in the same space where the Basalt Emporium now sits.
“I have a real love for historic downtown Basalt,” she said. “It’s really the heart of the valley, and I think its up and coming and exciting.”
Ever since a Whole Foods Market opened in the nearby Willits neighborhood and began drawing businesses out of the downtown core, there has been much hand-wringing among the remaining merchants about the downtown’s economic fate.
Yet Singer is convinced that the downtown area is coming back economically, if it ever even left.
“I think that a lot of the businesses that left, some of them are regretting it, because they got bigger spaces, bigger rents, bigger inventories,” she said. “I’m not certain that our valley can support all that. There are new businesses opening up in [downtown] Basalt.”
On a recent afternoon, Basalt Emporium staffer Julie Bloomingdale led a tour of the recently opened store. Bloomingdale occupies the “tightrope-walker” rung on the Emporium’s corporate ladder, while Singer is the “ringmaster” and their other partner Patti Clapper is “the clown.”
“This store is completely the same as the Aspen store, but different,” Bloomingdale said, as she walked down the Midland Avenue mall hallway that the Emporium has converted into an art gallery.
Local paintings hang on the walls, and products as diverse as beeswax candles, custom-made flasks, locally baked cookies and hand-sewn baseball caps are stacked on the shelves.
Some of the wares, like bacon lollipops, are simply meant to contribute to the circus-like atmosphere of the place, Bloomingdale said.
“Most everything we sell is handmade, recycled or repurposed, with a little fun and frippery thrown in there,” she said.
Artists interested in selling at the Basalt Emporium and Flying Circus can email firstname.lastname@example.org .