When all of the art fairs and showcases were canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, three Detroit women decided to create the Leaf and Blossom store, which serves as a space for artists to sell their artwork and products.
Mother and daughter Lillian Li and Victoria Li, both of Grosse Pointe Shores, along with their friend, Maggie Mazzara, of Grosse Pointe Woods, are all local artists. They opened Leaf and Blossom, which also is a place for the public to participate in art classes. In the store, you can find anything from handmade birdhouses to photography, and even get a tarot card reading while you’re there.
“I kind of figured — well, what if I do something that I like to do and have my own store,” said Victoria Li. “I originally was just going to sell tea, since I was a tea blender. But then we came across Maggie, and Maggie introduced the art part of it as well. So it just became this giant store idea of helping other artists promote their art and also help them push forward in this really difficult time.”
There are 26 other artists who sell their work in the store. The bright green space is located at 14832 Kercheval Ave., in Detroit, and the owners say the store brings in Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit residents, since the space is near the two cities.
“It was the perfect fit for our neighborhood,” said Lillian Li. “It was so important to make sure that we engage the artists in the community to be a part of our store.”
They also expanded outdoors and started a community garden for children.
“We want children to be engaged in art and I feel like art is this lost thing in schools,” said Lillian Li. “For us, we feel art is an essential part of somebody’s growth as a person. … It was a matter of making sure kids knew that art is something that comes in all different realms that they can enjoy.”
Like many other businesses in the last three weeks, Leaf and Blossom experienced flooding, which has created a few struggles. But they’re still pushing forward to support the artists who sell their work in the space.
Even though art fairs and showcases are returning, like the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, which took place last weekend, the effort put into working at the fairs is a lot to Dustin Waldo of Harper Woods, an artist who sells his artwork in Leaf and Blossom.
“When you do an art or craft show at a location …,” said Waldo, “first, you’ve got to pay like $100. You’ve got to come with your own tent, your own table and your own chairs. And you’re kind of committed to stay there because you can’t leave until the event is over.”
With Leaf and Blossom, “it’s perfect, it’s wonderful. I don’t have to sit in a chair for 12 hours in the sun or the pouring rain.”
At All Things Marketplace, a store in Detroit’s Corktown, owner Jennyfer Crawford, 41, spends much of her time hosting large events that before the pandemic would typically bring 14,000 people to shop in partnership with local businesses. Crawford, a Detroiter, also is the creator of the company Ask Jennyfer, which provides consultations and platforms for small businesses, and All Things Detroit marketplace at Eastern Market. She is known for curating a few markets in downtown Detroit, as well.
“During COVID, there were a few businesses that were really slammed with a lot of orders,” Crawford said. “(After) having to cancel an event two weeks prior to … the shutdown, I started to ship packages and assist (businesses) with shipping packages. While I was helping them ship packages, I’m like, ‘OK, I have an online platform. How can I transform our online platform to help the businesses with shipping and fulfillment during this process?’ “
She reached out to Build Institute, a center for business development. She now uses their pilot space for her All Things Marketplace store and shipping center, which is located at 1620 Michigan Ave., in suite 120 off Trumbull in Detroit. The store, which opened in November, sells artwork and apparel created by 37 local businesses.
“By (businesses) giving us the products, I think it was a way that they didn’t have to worry about it,” Crawford said. “It was pretty easy for them to give us their products and for us to sell them and ship them out.”
“This space has … opened it up, where they can send someone to a location. Some people really like to ship in person, so they can touch it, they can smell it, they can see it. By the small businesses not having brick-and-mortars, us having this space as a hub for them — not only for shopping, but also for shipping and fulfillment — has really been a success.”
The store is set to launch a new website this week and it is also expanding to a new store soon.
Spaces to sell artwork is a necessity
Art fairs and craft showcases bring people from all over the country together to support artists, view their artwork and possibly leave with a few items. But the pandemic caused art shows and showcases to come to a halt and many artists didn’t know what to do.
Artists and craftspeople moved toward e-commerce websites, like Etsy, to sell their work. Others opened stores and collective spaces, like Leaf and Blossom and All Things Marketplace, which have both online and in-person experiences to meet people where they’re at.
Shoppers returning to things they love as coronavirus restrictions are being lifted are looking for multisensory experiences at art events, said Julie Sailus, owner of Disco Walls in Hamtramck, which is a creative space for live performances, photographers and artists to use.
Sailus said that many Detroit-based artists didn’t know how to market themselves prior to the pandemic. They had had to learn how to get comfortable with online sales and marketing on social media. And now, the community is looking for more in their art experiences.
“I think it was bad for people that weren’t ready to make the change,” Sailus said. “But I think it was good because people leveled up on some stuff and got really good with their online presence and the way they were marketing themselves. … It definitely was a huge shock to anybody in the art community. I was booking galleries before COVID and it just kind of stopped. It was really depressing.”
Art fairs and showcases are returning, and Sailus said she believes artists will continue to make sales and connections online. She also thinks the popularity and demand for collective spaces, galleries and pop-up shops will keep growing.
“I definitely feel there’s quite a bit where people are trying to do art fairs, but they’re not always promoting them the best,” Sailus said. “That’s why I think some of these groups that are doing these events, it’s basically turning into the local neighborhood coming to support, but that’s not always going to be the group that buys that artist’s art. The artists, at the end of the day, want people to see their art, but they want sales.”