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DE PERE – Despite the coronavirus, a new business has opened in downtown De Pere that specializes in selling products made by other small businesses.  

SmithMaker Artisan Co. is a small independently owned business that sells work from artisans around Wisconsin and the United States.

“We are a small business supporting other small businesses,” said Ruth Fameree, the owner and mastermind behind SmithMaker. 

SmithMaker opened its doors with little fanfare on July 20, nearly two months later than anticipated due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Fameree explained that she has been dreaming about opening her own business for the last 10 years. In January, she donated a kidney to her husband, Chris Fameree, who was diagnosed with stage 4 polycystic kidney disease. While recovering, she decided that now was the time to move forward with her dream. Seeing a vacant storefront on Broadway made it that much easier.

“The shop was the perfect size, not too large, because I didn’t want to stock too much inventory,” Fameree said.

SmithMaker Artisan Co. offers a variety of products made by artists in the United States. (Photo: Alexandria Bursiek Kloehn)

The store sells a variety of goods, from Wisconsin-themed apparel to velvet pumpkins to use as décor. The shop has a raw industrial feel with several carefully designed displays featuring products from businesses like GILTEE and Nourish Natural Products. The name SmithMaker was an idea from Chris Fameree: It references blacksmiths as creators, and Smith is Ruth Fameree’s maiden name. 

Roughly 70% of the store’s merchandise is from artisans based in Wisconsin. The remaining 30% is from artisans throughout the United States. To find the artisans she wanted to display, Ruth Fameree spent a lot of time browsing Instagram before reaching out to anyone who might be a good fit for contributing to her store. Once she had some contributors, word of mouth helped her get more.

SmithMaker Artisan Co. displays products from brands like Nourish Natural Products. (Photo: Alexandria Bursiek Kloehn)

The coronavirus pandemic has created a number of hurdles for SmithMaker, starting with the opening date. Ruth Fameree leased the building at the end of February and planned to open the store in May.

In the end, she decided to move forward with opening the store in July, but she didn’t announce it — in hopes of avoiding crowds in the store. Ruth Fameree said that adding safety precautions has been a big hurdle she didn’t originally plan for. The store is regularly disinfected, Plexiglas was installed at the register, and she is currently working on a plan to limit crowding in the store over the holiday season. 

Possibly the largest change for SmithMaker was adding an option to shop online. 

“Since I’ve worked for a number of big box retailers, it created a desire to do that on my own to make it a more personal shopping experience,” said Ruth Fameree. “I wanted to bring people back into a brick and mortar store.”

However, with everyone quarantining, not having an online presence wasn’t an option. Now SmithMaker offers online shopping and curbside pickup. Ultimately, she has decided to keep these options available even after the coronavirus is a distant memory, whenever that may happen. 

Despite all of these extra hurdles, Ruth Fameree said they are meeting sales goals. She estimated that roughly 20 people browse the store in person each day, with 10 to 15 of those interactions becoming sales. 

Online is a slightly different story. While sales were initially high online, they dropped shortly after. Ruth Fameree said online sales are steadily increasing again and she is expecting a jump as we move into the holiday season. 

In the meantime, SmithMaker is keeping busy online with their Facebook and Instagram accounts announcing new products, giveaways and restocks. SmithMaker is certainly staying on trend with loads of fall décor and Streetwise can only assume they will have plenty of holiday décor as well.

Alexandria Bursiek Kloehn is a business reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach her at abursiekkloehn@gannett.com or view her Twitter profile at @bursiekkloehn.

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