Holiday gift shop pops up in Algoma in response to COVID-19 pandemic
ALGOMA – This year's COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on business owners across the country, and Kimberly Iwen was no exception.
But the locally based owner, operator and body care product maker of Queen Bee Handmade Soap was able to turn trouble into opportunity and start a new gift store in downtown Algoma.
The Honeycomb Holiday Pop-Up Gift Shop, in the former James May Gallery on Steele Street, features Queen Bee's soaps, candles and body care products (now including hand sanitizers) along with the wares of nine other artisans and craftspeople from across eastern Wisconsin. It opened Nov. 1 and will remain open through Dec. 23.
Along with Iwen's products, the shop offers work by two jewelry makers, two artists, one artisan who makes leather goods, a ceramic artist, another artisan who creates women's clothing, one who block prints designs on canvas items, one who makes purses and bags from repurposed furniture upholstery, Soup & Dipity mixes and Door County Chocolate.
The artisans' locales range from Sister Bay to Waupaca and include Terri Vlies of Algoma, who creates bracelets, earrings and necklaces with wire-wrapped stones and crystals through her Crystal Nectar line; and Dana Enderby of New Franken, a designer who creates botanical-inspired prints and home decor through her Dana Rose Artwork business.
Iwen started Queen Bee about nine and a half years ago after a career in customer service and logistics, now making her body care products in a building on Steele Street about two blocks away from the shop. Like many artisans, including those featured in the Honeycomb shop, she sold her goods online (qbhandmadesoaps.net) but made much of her living by displaying and selling them at farmers markets, arts and crafts fairs, festivals and similar community events where she could interact face to face with her customers.
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But the pandemic that swept across the country and its resultant bans on and recommendations against large gatherings of people brought most of those events to a halt this year. Iwen said she was able to work a couple of farmers markets (although she couldn't work some that didn't classify her products as "essential") and a couple of outdoor art shows in Nebraska, but much of her usual work disappeared.
With so many other artists and craftspeople dealing with the same problem, that prompted Iwen to come up with new ideas to sell her goods. One of those is the Honeycomb shop, which she said will help boost her usually heavy business during the holiday gift-buying season.
"Since everything was canceled, I was like, 'What could I do?'" Iwen said. "November is usually one of our biggest months because of the holidays. If one good thing came out of this COVID (pandemic), it was thinking there are other ways to do this (market the products)."
Iwen said her experience in the arts and crafts business gave her good leads on other artisans who would fit well with the shop. The artisans are splitting the rent and Iwen holds down the fort most of the time, although other artisans will work in the shop occasionally.
Besides their creating items she thinks will be popular with shoppers, Iwen also selected the participating artisans because she personally likes and in some cases uses their work.
"I guess that's what I should fill my store with, are products I like (laughs)," Iwen said with a laugh.
It also was important to Iwen to feature local artisans. She said she thinks holiday gift shoppers, especially in smaller communities, are concentrating on buying locally made items to help the small businesses that have struggled during the pandemic.
"I heard a number of people say they're only going to shop local this year, they're not going to shop big-box," Iwen said. "I think they want to support local businesses. Our main livelihoods, whether farmers markets, arts and crafts fairs, fall festivals, that's our livelihoods, and that was all taken away this year."
Plus, the store gives shoppers the chance to actually see and touch the items in which they're interested, something that isn't possible while shopping online. Iwen said that can give shoppers a sense of old-fashioned comfort during a time when it's needed. (Store workers will wear masks and shoppers are asked to do so as well.)
"So far, everyone who's come in has told us they're so glad we got this," Iwen said. "A lot of people do like to shop for unique items, especially for the holidays. People still have the nostalgia of going to the store, touching items, feeling what they're going to buy. I think it's something people are missing. It's kind of a win-win for us, this year especially.
"(The shop) will help our product have an avenue for people to look at and see nine other vendors as well."
Iwen admitted it wasn't an easy decision to launch her first brick-and-mortar store, especially at a time like this. But so far, she said things are going well, and if the opportunity arises, she'll consider opening a permanent shop if it has room for the soap-making part of her business.
"It was scary," Iwen said. "I was thinking, 'Oh God, is it gonna be worth it or not?' But after the first week of being open, I have a really good feeling about it."
The Honeycomb Holiday Pop-Up Shop is open though Dec. 23 in the former James May Gallery at 213 Steele St., Algoma. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays; it also will open at 10 a.m. Fridays, Nov. 20 and 27, to participate in the Kewaunee County Christmas Stroll. For more information, call 920-255-0672 or visit the "Queen Bee Handmade Soaps" Facebook page.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Holiday gift shop pops up in Algoma in response to COVID-19 pandemic