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.
When you think about a museum gift shop, what pops into your head first? Is it racial equity? The Baltimore Museum of Industry seeks to offer visitors a narrative about Baltimore that addresses the city’s social issues. That includes the gift shop, run by lifelong Baltimorean Kelley Edelmann.
Kelley was a teenager hanging out with her friends in Patterson Park the first time she remembers being aware of racial profiling from the police. After watching officers question her friends of color while they told her to stay out of it, she started noticing discrimination all around her. Now, she tries to use her resources as the manager of the Baltimore Museum of Industry gift shop to empower black and brown artists, makers and entrepreneurs.
“Everybody that comes in here, especially Baltimoreans, should feel like they’re connected with this space,” she said. “We should represent the people of Baltimore, not just a specific group. That’s what I want for my gift shop — to speak to all the different people we have in this city that make it so great.”
Kelley supports local makers as a step towards changing typical narratives about Baltimore’s industry. Those narratives, she told me when I visited her shop, often reinforce racial inequities that black and brown Baltimoreans must work to overcome.
That’s why Kelley features products like Ama Scents, essential oils with names like ‘Stay Woke’ and ‘Black Girl Joy.’ Those products, she said, often get a reaction from browsing customers — usually positive, she said.
“Our city was built by African Americans, and I just don’t think they get enough of the spotlight,” she said. “The system needs to be fixed deep from the inside. First of all, you have to have people admit and accept it — but it seems to be very hard for people that are white.”
Still, Kelley added that she only does a small part to help black makers in Baltimore thrive. She raved about the artists in her store and credited Made in Baltimore with tapping her into a wider network of those makers from around the city.
“In Baltimore we have just such a huge amount of talent and it’s really good that Made in Baltimore’s trying to pull that in and get them noticed and have a brand,” she said. “It helps the artist out tremendously to get that word out, because I wouldn’t have known about half the people in my shop.”
For years, she sought to feature more locally-made products in the shop. It wasn’t until 2016, though, that Kelley applied for Made in Baltimore’s Retailer Certification after visiting a networking event at our pop-up shop in Hampden. Now, certified Made in Baltimore products take up a majority of the space in her shop, she told me with a chuckle — and that includes other black makers who she connected with through the network.
She explained that she mostly buys wholesale from makers. She’s also happy to work something else out — like a consignment agreement with Sachs Designs to feature their handcrafted jewelry. Ultimately, she emphasized that she wanted to do her best to support the makers whose products she stocks.
“I want them to be able to make as much as they can, and of course make a little bit for my own shop, but I never want them to feel like they’re getting taken advantage of or not making the money that they should,” she said.
Kelley also told me about some of the frustrations she encounters as a retailer. Competition between makers, for example, means she can’t stock too many similar products. She said she normally sticks with whoever came to her first. Still, she doesn’t think local makers are competitive or cutthroat — in fact, she told me they usually try to help each other out and would be understanding.
She also explained that backing from Made in Baltimore can give her more confidence when considering whether to stock a new maker.
“Made in Baltimore helps because they’re a solid structure, and they’re saying, ‘Look, we back these people, they’re good, they’re fair, they have great products,’” she said. “Having somebody back up an artist so that they’re not doing it by themselves is actually pretty helpful.”
Even displaying the Made in Baltimore brand in her window, Kelley said, often gets the conversation started with customers. She told me most people seem happier about their purchases when they know they’re supporting local makers. For locals, she added, it can even instill some pride in our city.
And for the people who grumble that some of the products cost more than they would at Target, Kelley tries to remind them that they’re not just paying for the product, but also the time a maker puts into any one handcrafted piece.
“You’re supporting a local person, you’re supporting a local business. That used to be all there was,” she said. “Instead of making the fat cats richer, support your people and it’s better for everybody. It’s better for the community, it’s better for the neighborhood.”
Ultimately, on the question of why support local, Kelley told me that it comes back to the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s mission.
“Our mission is always about community and industry and providing that knowledge,” she said. “We talk more about the people in the industry than the industry itself, so with that being said we should also support our local people in their industry.”
Visit the Baltimore Museum of Industry at 1415 Key Highway or online at thebmi.org.
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/