29 Aug Retailer Spotlight: The MICA Store
Attention Baltimoreans! Gearing up for holiday shopping but tired of supporting behemoth corporations? When you shop at independent stores with local makers, your money stays in the city you love. Made in Baltimore is proud to share this series spotlighting some of the Baltimore City’s most local-supporting retailers, created by our 2019 intern, Jacob Took.
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) attracts artistic talent from around the world as one of the major arts institutions in the country. The MICA Store seeks to amplify the talent of its home base in Baltimore by pairing locally made products with the more traditional school supplies and necessities.
For decades, the MICA Store operated out of a couple of renovated row houses that had been condemned before being purchased by the school. Space was limited, and a couple of years ago store manager Kerri Litz shepherded a move a few blocks up Mount Royal Avenue to a larger, more open space with a sleek, modern exterior and plenty of natural light.
Part of pushing for the new space, Kerri told me when I visited, was explaining how it fit into a larger shift in the store’s goals. Of course, there are still shelves lined with art supplies and course materials to support MICA students. But she hoped the new space could better bridge the different groups who frequent the store — MICA students and their friends and families from all over the world, as well as local artists, makers and community members.
Kerri’s strategy was to look beyond retailing what she calls “MICA swag” and art supplies — and stock locally-made products that show off Baltimore’s creative talent.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to say, ‘Hey, look at what Baltimore is doing. Look at all the positive things that the creative community here does,’” she said. “I want folks to come here and see things that are made here so that they are learning about Baltimore, because when you go down to the harbor and you buy the mass-produced junk down there that’s made somewhere far away, you’re not really learning anything about who we are.”
She hopes that products which are part of everyday life can change the idea that art is something separate and elite. Art, she joked, doesn’t sell too well at art supply stores. The locally-made products that the MICA Store features are utilitarian, from businesses like SewLab USA (bags), Urban Roots (seed bombs) and Mount Royal Soaps (soap).
Mount Royal, one of the first local brands Kerri stocked, didn’t just catch her attention because the store is on Mount Royal Avenue. She remembered seeing one scent in particular that stood out — Clean Bohemian, made with locally infamous National Bohemian beer.
“As soon as I saw it, I was just like, ‘Oh that’s so MICA,’” she recalled with a chuckle, alluding to the trope of cash-strapped students and artists preferring cheaper beer.
The store also stocks Youth in Business, a Made in Baltimore-certified art and design collective supported through Jubilee Arts. As part of the store’s grand opening week, Kerri organized a community day to highlight local makers. It included a pop-up for SewLab USA’s brand Hold Fast and an opening for several new designs from Youth in Business.
She said that bringing different makers together can connect them to resources and let them learn from one another. Education, she added, is central to the store’s mission as part of MICA.
“An important part of the store is to show current students that there are people who are making a living with their craft,” she said. “There’s so much more to being an artist or maker than just the making. It’s always education — this is how you run a store. This is how you pay taxes.”
She pointed to Made in Baltimore’s business development workshops and networking events as another way makers can come together to share their skills and experiences.
“Made in Baltimore is helping support local makers by offering resources and education… folks that are actually out there doing it and making a living are a great resource,” she said.
Now more than ever, she said, education is important at a time when it’s harder than ever to run a brick and mortar storefront. The convenience of online shopping has brought a downturn in customers — although she joked that artists often procrastinate and then have to rush to get supplies.
Shopping online may also be cheaper, but Kerri questioned whether those products are of good quality and produced with ethical labor.
“I’d rather pay more for something that’s made here and made good quality like SewLab,” she said. “It’s really important to try to talk to students and have that understanding that what you make is valuable and you do deserve to make a fair amount of money on it.”
Kerri said that Made in Baltimore has become a go-to when she’s considering new products to carry in the store, adding that the site makes it easy to find new makers. She added that the Made in Baltimore brand shows that locally-made products come with a story.
“It’s a local story. It’s sort of about you in a way,” she said. “Creative people who like to make things themselves are interested in the things other people make.”
After seeing the Made in Baltimore brand, she started using similar stickers throughout the store to label products made by MICA students, faculty and alumni.
Ultimately, she said that working with Made in Baltimore helps her use the store to better support Baltimore’s local artists.
“If you’re in the arts community, you see the people that you know, your mentors, struggling to make a living doing this stuff that they are driven to do, and to be in a position to help make that a reality is great,” she said. “MICA’s been here forever, and we are made in Baltimore.”
Visit the MICA Store at 1501 W Mount Royal Drive, or online at shop.mica.edu.
To enjoy the benefits of a Made in Baltimore retailer membership, a store is required to stock three (3) Made in Baltimore-certified brands (though many carry more). Membership includes networking, business development opportunities, educational workshops and dedicated marketing campaigns. Interested? Sign up today: https://madeinbaltimore.org/become-a-member/