ANDERSONVILLE — An art supplies and gift shop is evolving into a virtual store and maker space.
Martha Mae: Art Supplies and Beautiful Things, 5407 N. Clark St., closed at the end of August after four years. But Martha Mae will continue as an online store with unique physical iterations in Andersonville, said owner Jean Cate.
The change was brought on by the complications of running a retail business during the coronavirus pandemic, Cate said.
“It was doing well before, but the main bulk of the business was in-store sales,” she said. “When COVID hit, the online store was the main way people interacted with the store. I thought, ‘Oh, it would be cool to make a bold move, just try to rely on delivery and online.'”
Martha Mae opened in August 2016, taking over the space that housed art studio Vignette Vignette.
Cate opened Vignette Vignette with a business partner in 2015 after raising $15,000 on GoFundMe. The art space transitioned into an art supply store and gift shop the following year, adopting the new name. Cate said it was a more financially viable way to showcase artists and host community art programming.
But the coronavirus pandemic upended the economy and imposed restrictions on businesses this spring. Martha Mae closed for the stay at home order, eventually reopening with a pickup window.
Most of the store’s business at the time was coming in through its online shop, which was established before the pandemic.
With Cate’s lease up in August, she decided to take a leap and try a new model for her business.
“We’ve been pretty lucky that we had an online shop for a few years,” Cate said. “I thought, ‘Why not try this new adventure?’ I like change.”
Martha Mae could come back as a physical store after the pandemic. In the meantime, Cate said she will experiment with the digital format, working to make the online experience as personal as visiting the store.
Cate is working on a studio space where she will create products and content, including video tutorials on art projects and showcases of new items. Cate will also incorporate her writing into the online shop, giving her opinion on the items for sale.
Martha Mae will still have some physical presence in Andersonville. It will host pop-up collaborations with local businesses, starting with a pickup window at Lost Larson, 5318 N. Clark. St.
Cate is also planning to get a pink wagon to deliver orders to the post office. Her dog and store namesake, Martha, will ride in the wagon, which will serve as a form of marketing for the shop.
And Cate will continue a practice she recently adopted while fulfilling online orders: including a small, custom-made piece of art. Usually, the art pieces are little paints of a fruit or animal, or more abstract ink compositions, Cate said.
“I like creating an experience with people,” she said. “Little, nice gestures are important when things are hard.”
Martha Mae’s online store can be found here.
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