Store Next Door: Outside the Lines Art & Gifts, Grand Rapids
Outside the Lines Art & Gifts
Grand Rapids, Michigan
After 30 years in the corporate world, Sherri Brom decided to switch careers to something she held a little closer to her heart: handmade art and gifts from American artists. The switch wasn’t to create, but to become an outlet for such products.
With little retail background other than being an avid shopper herself, Brom began the process of learning the ins and outs of running a small store, which she opened in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, a year ago. It’s called Outside the Lines Art & Gifts, and is dedicated to the handmade work of domestic artists.
First up for Brom was deciding what she wanted to focus on and then finding arts and gifts to fill the store. She sought the advice of a Grand Rapids-area artisan and retailer, Betsy Ratzsch, who was about to close up her brick-and-mortar location to focus on selling her work online.
“She knew I wanted to do stuff that I loved, which is art and gifts,” Brom said. “She gave advice on how to get set up, and she even let me be a guest to a (American Craft and Retail Expo) show. That grabbed my interest in that there are so many great artists in the United States. Why not focus on that? I mean, there are great artists all over the world, but to focus more on the economy and U.S. artists is what I wanted to do.”
The first show was more about making contacts with artists whose work she liked — Brom describes her taste as whimsical, fun and colorful — networking and asking questions of vendors and other buyers.
“Everybody has been great in the industry. (My advice is) if you’re interested in an artist, talk to them,” Brom said. “What I’ve found is everything is more than willing to help, they want to see you succeed. That was amazing to me when I first went and started talking to people, other retailers, too.”
Next, Brom had to find a location. She choose the Shops @MoDiv, a flexible retail incubator that houses several small shops in Grand Rapids’ foot-heavy Monroe Center shopping district. The Shops @ MoDiv (short for Monroe and Division streets) allotted Brom flexibility — she’s already moved from one of the small spaces to a larger one — and the chance to work closely with other retailers.
“I love being in this building with other retailers, because I’m used to being in an environment where I can collaborate and talk to people. Especially, first starting out being able to go talk to another retailer,” she said. “We have a mix of products, but we all face the similar challenges. If I have a question, everybody here has been very helpful.”
Brom said some customers are attracted to the U.S. and handmade aspects of her selection, while others are just looking for something they like. “Some people are going to buy what they’re going to buy,” Brom said. “But, for me, I want to buy quality and it (U.S.-made) says quality. Something that’s handmade, when someone’s put love and care into making it, it’s more meaningful to me.”