Local artisans connect with new customers

NILES —  Stationed in front of a variety of hand-crafted paintings, folklore artist Michael Morehouse talked about his passion for art and met a variety of new customers during Small Business Saturday.

While damp, chilly weather forced some artisans to close shop early, a number remained throughout the day to sell their signature wares. From baked from scratch cupcakes to locally sourced jams, there was a variety for people to choose from while shopping local.

While shopping was key for some, Saturday’s festivities also included a number of holiday activities, such as horse-drawn carriage rides, a visit from Santa Claus and tree lighting ceremony. Carolers from the Brandywine Treblaires also sang holiday songs from the street corners throughout the day.

Despite the weather, Morehouse said he was successfully able to reach some new customers and sell about 10 of his pieces. Morehouse took part in Small Business Saturday last year and emphasized that it’s not just an opportunity to do business.

“You meet genuine people. There are so many hoops to jump through when you come downtown and want to start a regular business, but when you come down here as a pop artists … there are all these options for street vendors to do different things,” Morehouse said.

Morehouse said he hopes those who purchase his art feel the inspiration of everyday life that he felt when he crafted the paintings. He said he believes his art can offer something to customers that big-box stores cannot.

“That’s what is different about it than the franchises — [the art] comes from real life,” he said.

Across the street from Morehouse, Diana Robson stood behind a table covered in jars of jams, jellies and maple syrup. Robson was helping out this Small Business Saturday to get the word out about Sticky Spoons, which is owned by Robson’s daughter-in-law and Navy veteran Aiye Akhigbe. The business utilizes locally sourced fruit to create the jam and follows the seasonal cycle of what is locally available. Overall Sticky Spoons offers 62 varieties, including peach mango, strawberry kiwi and damson plum.

“We start back in May with rhubarb and we end with cranberry, grape and apple by the fall, because those are our last fruits,” Robson said.

Robson said she feels Small Business Saturday helps the business to promote itself.

“We always try to do Small Business Saturday,” Robson said. “We are a small business, too. It draws attention to the little people: the people not working for the corporate boss.”

She said Saturday allowed her to reach several new customers, including a group she said visited Niles from South Bend.

At a table next to Robson, Thomas Johnson, of South Bend, and Tamia Adams, of Niles, sold a dessert known as the Fantasy Cupcake. Topped with macaroons, Rice Krispies and a variety of other candy, the cupcake looks like a Coral Reef seascape made of candy and is a popular item for All Over Creations. The business is owned by Michelle Blandford, who cooks in the Niles Entrepreneurial Culinary Incubator.

Like their fellow artisans, Johnson and Adams said Small Business Saturday offers a big way to connect with their customers.

“We are able to meet a lot of people in the community and get our name out there,” Adams said. “The Fantasy Cupcake is well-known. People have come up to say, ‘oh, this is the Fantasy Cupcake.’”

Last year, when the business attended Small Business Saturday Adams said business was so great, they felt compelled to return this year. 

“Word of mouth is better than anything,” Johnson said.

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