I Like You, the colorful shop that gives hip crafters a home
It may not be entirely possible for a store to 'like' its customers but I Like You
in northeast Minneapolis certainly puts off a sweetly embracing vibe. The floor is covered in grass-green Astroturf, the walls in vintage children's book covers. At the large front window overlooking First Avenue Northeast is an explosion of colorful hula hoops.
Owned by two spunky and passionate women, this new-ish consignment shop offers handmade things from local people: hand-poured soy wax candles, glamorous peacock feather hairpins, layered stencil-and-spray paint artworks, and screen-printed linen tea towels. Everything in the shop is born out of someone's creative compulsion. "Almost all of our artists have quote-unquote 'real' jobs, and they create things in their off-hours," says store co-owner Sarah Sweet, who sports a sprightly pixie haircut and says things like "awesome" and "so cute!"
Sweet's co-pilot is Angela Lessman, who was "taking a semester off" from veterinary school when she met Sweet at a bridal shower in 2007. The two chatted each other up, and less than two weeks later, they were planning their retail venture: a shop of hip, handmade craft goodness. Six weeks after that, they opened their doors on Nicollet Avenue in the Kingfield neighborhood. No Birds, No Bunnies
The first two years, both women admit, were rough going. "I had this vision of us being in the store, and we would be in the back sewing, and the birds would hold up our thread, and when the customers came in the bunnies would hop out first to greet them," says Sweet. "It was such a dream, such a lie." Instead, the two women spent hours babysitting their young children in a cramped, 600-square-foot store, tending to only a handful of customers. "We were at the point of having to make some tough decisions," says Sweet.
Then the two women were at a craft event and someone said, 'Oh, you're from I Like You?!' Suddenly, there was a reason to keep going. After their lease was up in 2009, the twosome packed up and moved I Like You to Northeast Minneapolis and expanded their representation from 60 crafters to more than 160.
They also developed a sharper policy for accepting and editing would-be consignors with an online application
and review process. Since then, Lessman and Sweet have become fastidious choosers of merchandise. There are no bean soup mixes in Mason jars or hand-painted "Bless This Mess" signs at I Like You. But there are screen-printed graphic onesies from Minneapolis designer Sara Linter of Too Many Suitors
, striped sock monkeys by Rebecca Yaker of Hazel and Melvin's Room
, and vintage-inspired clutches by William Weethee of Third Willow
Hip crafters, like the folks mentioned above, traditionally have few options for selling their wares: occasional craft markets like the Handmaiden Mpls Indie Craftacular
(which Lessman and Sweet have organized five times), and the Renegade Craft Fair
in Chicago. Otherwise, it's direct selling via etsy.com or a personal site. I Like You offers a permanent locale for folks normally cut out of the retail loop. Craft Power
Ironically, Sweet thinks it was the web that ultimately made a place like I Like You possible. The launch of etsy.com opened up the full panoply of crafted goods. Shows and fairs were more easily assembled. People could even learn how to crochet by watching videos
on YouTube, says Sweet. "People have always crafted. But now it's so darn accessible," she says. Couple that with the green and buy-local movements, and hip, handmade goods continue to be very right for the moment, and big business to boot. According to a recent study from Crafts Report, the fine craft industry contributes more than $14 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The handmade craft industry is much harder to estimate, but scrapbooking alone topped $1.65 billion in retail sales in 2009 according to Scrapbooking
And Minneapolis-Saint Paul has become enough of a national crafts hotbed that the American Craft Council
and its magazine are moving here from Manhattan's SoHo--the national organization is set to occupy offices in Northeast's Grain Belt building on August 2.
Though there's quite a brouhaha over the intersections of crafting and post-feminism (scholars point to crafting as a kind of reclamation of domestic arts), Sweet and Lessman are much more into dogged, down-to-the-bone hard work. "We scoff at the idea of eight hours of sleep," says Lessman, who waits tables in addition to running the store. When she's working at I Like You, she often brings her 18-month-old, Lux, who toddles around the store, holding handmade cards and staring back at mom as if to say, 'dare me to put this in my mouth.'" Sweet's four-year-old, Daschel, also makes regular appearances.
The two are so ambitious that they launched a series of crafting classes at the store, and applied to have a booth at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair
, which they won. They also just hired their very first employee.
"We love what we do, and we work hard to make it happen," says Sweet. "I don't know if that makes us feminists or just insane." Alyssa Ford spent more than five years covering the Twin Cities design community for
Midwest Home magazine. Today she writes on design, business, personal growth, health, and other topics for many publications. Her audio feature "Top Shops for the Design Freak" ran in
The Line's inaugural issue.
Photos, top to bottom:
I Like You, on First Avenue NE in Minneapolis' arty Northeast neighborhood
The store is a colorful collage of locally-conceived and -created craft items.
A bevy of bottlecap necklaces, by Emily Kircher.
Cards and posters by local artists--from the sweet to the snarky.
Button brooches by Deux Amis Designs.