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.
Boasting a bright storefront in Fells Point, Su Casa Furniture feels like the kind of place you could visit after a long day of work, flash a smile to the person at the register and plop down onto one of the many couches on the sales floor. Every shelf and table pops with unique, quirky home décor products (the shelves and tables are for sale, too).
When I visited Su Casa, which also has a store in Ellicott City and two beach locations in Delaware, owner Nick Johnson had just gotten back from a delivery — he’d kicked off his day unloading and assembling a bed frame. He explained to me that connecting with people, whether they’re customers looking to buy a product or makers looking to sell, is the highlight of his work.
“That’s fun for me. That’s a good day, and that passion is what keeps me going,” he said. “I don’t want to sit at my desk crunching numbers, paying bills and filing receipts. That’s tedious and terrible. The fun part is being out front and talking to people and getting them excited about what we do because we’re so excited about what we do.”
Before moving to Annapolis, Nick explained, his family lived in Guatemala, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador, where the culture is colorful, textured and carries a respect for handcrafted work. In high school, Nick opened what he called a hippie head shop with guidance from his dad.
“It was ’91, The Dead were touring, Phish was just getting started, all those things, so we sold a lot of incense, tapestries and sundresses,” Nick said. “As I finished college and got back to it, I started getting a little bit more serious about it.”
Over twenty years of operation, featuring locally-made furniture and home décor has always been part of Su Casa’s mission. Nick reemphasized that supporting local all comes down to the people behind the products.
“When you’re paying all of that money to the person who made the product, that money that you’re spending becomes more impactful on a local basis,” he said. “You can actually meet that person. You might bump into them on the street, you might bump into them in the store.”
That’s exactly what happened with Kim, the Towson-based owner of The White Washed Row Home. Midway through our chat, she came in to unload a van full of her handcrafted pieces of home décor. Knowing that his money would go straight into Kim’s bank account made the purchase more meaningful, Nick said. Tracing a check made out to a larger company would be impossible, diluting the impact of the purchase.
He also pointed to other benefits of supporting local makers — saving on the cost of freight shipping, as well as cutting down on packaging and emissions waste, makes shopping locally more sustainable.
It’s not everywhere that you can find global companies rubbing shoulders with local artists and makers. At Su Casa, they embrace both, stocking certified Made in Baltimore makers and artists like Wight Tea Company and Charlie Barton, alongside products from small businesses around the country.
With stores along the Delaware coast in Bethany Beach and Ocean View, as well as a huge newly expanded space in Ellicott City, Nick hopes artists and makers in Baltimore can expand their reach through Su Casa. Many makers have customized their Baltimore-focused products for Su Casa’s other stores.
“We hope that it becomes this concept that spreads beyond just Baltimore but still reinforces the fact that it is Baltimore that’s doing this, making sure that people have that general connection — a positive story to tell about Baltimore,” he said. “Then people are jealous of a part of Baltimore, and it’s changing the narrative of the city.”
The Made in Baltimore certification, Nick said, is important in a day and age when people are more conscious about where they buy products.
“We jumped at the chance to become a certified retailer,” he said. “It dovetails right into our philosophy — the stuff that’s made in Baltimore is different from what you can get anywhere else. It really emphasizes that this is not a global chain type of store. This store has roots deep in the community, and supporting the people that live here, work here and create here is part of that same mission.”
Having been in the industry for over two decades, Nick has seen some changes. For starters, there are more makers now than ever before, a shift he attributes to increased access to resources. Spaces like OpenWorks have opened up in cities around the country which give makers the knowledge and tools to hone their craft. He also pointed to YouTube, where anyone can learn almost anything with a simple search.
While resources and education may be more accessible, Nick added that the quality of local products has also increased, and so the bar for makers is higher than it once was. Still, he hopes that this will only encourage more consumers to shop locally.
“The game has stepped up, but I think it’s easier if you’re that passionate about it to step up your own game,” he said. “A locally-made product doesn’t mean that it’s inferior. It doesn’t mean that it’s lesser quality or less desirable. It’s just an added bonus that it’s made locally. It can compete with anything made anywhere.”
He said that in the last ten years after the recession, customers want their purchases to be meaningful and to come with a story. Here, again, the Made in Baltimore certification makes a difference.
“People love to connect to their hometown,” he said. “You know there’s somebody actually behind that product, you can meet that person, you can know who they are, you can know a little about them. It gives you a real connection and makes the product more special.”
From talking with Nick, I knew one thing for sure — he loves what he does. He said that his wife, his dad and plenty of others tell him he works too much. But, it’s like they say — if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
That passion translates to all of Su Casa.
“We are sincere in this devotion to the community and to developing individuals who are making products, and we know that they can coexist with commercially manufactured products,” he said. “The benefits are boundless.”
Visit Su Casa at 901 S. Bond Street or online at sucasa-furniture.com.
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/