When the Coconut Barrel artisan market opened its doors in June, it had 25 vendors renting space to show their wares in the 4,000-square-foot warehouse on U.S. Route 1.
Less than a month later, all the display space was booked, followed by a waiting list comprised of 150 artists waiting to rent a spot.
The response provided more than enough validation for owner Kori Smith that she’d clearly tapped into a niche in the market.
Against the industrial milieu of the former garage, more than 100 artists have taken up residence, decorating their cubicles with bright colored creations: handcrafted jewelry, metal work, yard art, re-purposed furniture, knitted scarves, woven baskets, French clay soap and more.
“It’s my storefront,” said St. Augustine’s Jessica Stark who displays macrame pieces, from pot hangers to yoga mats, from her solo business “Knotilus.”
The Coconut Barrel, open seven days a week, handles all sales, leaving DIY crafters more time to focus on their work rather than getting that work to market.
Artisan markets as a concept have taken off in recent years, including in St. Johns County. Think flea market meets Etsy — a venue where customers can browse for crafts but artists don’t have the overhead of a traditional business; a platform through which orders can be processed and promoted through social media.
Earlier this year, Kori Smith and her husband, Steve, moved to St. Augustine from Ohio. An artist, Kori said she was driving around one day looking for places to sell her crafts, jewelry boxes made from pallets.
“And I got the idea to open a crafts mall,” Smith said.
Calling it a “pop-up shop boutique,” Smith said the market provides artisans with an outlet to introduce potential customers to their products without the risk and investment of a storefront. Monthly rent starts at $68 and artists are free to decorate and tailor their spaces to their own display needs.
Last February, several artists organized the inaugural Made in STA Fest which attracted 130 vendors. The idea behind it was the same: connect local residents with locally made goods. Add food vendors, entertainers and crafts demonstrations and the event was a success, according to Jacquelyn Zeichner, one of the festival’s founders.
“The whole local movement is ‘support local, shop local, buy local,'” Zeichner said. “It’s giving people a chance. Some are retirees who have free time, some are trying their hand at something that may be a hobby and they’re testing the market.”
And the Coconut Barrel isn’t the only collective in St. Johns County. For Amanda Alton, a partner with Dixie Cottage, a business on South Dixie Highway was a chance to combine forces with other artists rather than competing against them for the same clientele. The shop sells rustic, farmhouse-style furniture and decor created by Alton and two other female artists. Dixie Cottage also holds markets outside the store, including one on Oct. 6, allowing vendors of all kinds to set up display tables.
“I feel like this makers’ movement is huge, just huge,” said Alton who gave up her day job to launch Dixie Cottage. “Now that it’s so much easier to get your stuff out there, it’s almost the cool thing to do.”
Another collective of local artists is the 11 Aviles Street Arts & Crafts Guild, a gallery that includes 50 visual artists, sculptors, potters, knife-makers, leather craftsmen, writers and musicians.
Of course, farmers’ markets have always welcomed handcrafted products. In St. Augustine, that includes the market at the St. Augustine Beach Pier every Wednesday, the market at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre each Saturday, and the Night Market at the amphitheatre the fourth Tuesday of every month. In addition, the third annual St. Augustine Makers Fest will be held at the amphitheatre Dec. 9.
Smith said the Coconut Barrel usually draws about 50 to 70 people a day on weekdays and as many as 400 over a good weekend when they set up vendor tents outside.
At the end of each day, artists receive notification of their sales so they can keep track of their inventory.
“It inspires me to keep filling it up,” said Leah Souder, a St. Augustine artist whose whimsical artwork and handmade candles have sold well at the Coconut Barrel.
The market will hold a series of special events throughout the holiday season, and Smith hopes by then she will have fulfilled her vision for the craft mall by adding classes and workshops.