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SmithMaker Artisan showcases Wisconsin products

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – The owner of SmithMaker Artisan Co., 116 N. Broadway, doesn’t have to fret over import taxes, customs duties, or tariffs on overseas freight.

That’s the benefit of stocking mostly products which come from within a few hours’ radius.

“I wanted to bring in as many Wisconsin vendors as I could,” said Ruth Fameree, SmithMaker Artisan Co. owner.

She said she tries to stay on top of which vendors already distribute locally so as not to tread on her fellow merchants’ toes by duplicating their offerings.

SmithMaker’s tagline is “Celebrating the American artisan,” and to that end, the store offers a mix of artsy and utilitarian goods mostly made in Wisconsin.

Get a man-candle scented like cabin or “Uncle Floyd’s pipe” made in Racine for your guy, and grab some Mequon-made Rebel Green veggie wash for yourself.

Maybe your sister needs a leather cross-body handbag from Kenosha designer Threads by Cake, or your turbo-powered Sheepadoodle calls for a heavy-duty leather leash from Blu Mountain of Milwaukee.

SmithMaker carries a stock of locally produced treats, including Mrs. Beaster’s Biskits, along with shampoo, collars and other animal accoutrements.

Fameree said she estimates about three-quarters of her stock comes from Wisconsin artisans.

Women-owned and green companies play a prime role here, as do sole-proprietorship craftspersons, jewelry designers and sewers.

“Every week, people inquire as to whether we have floor space for their items,” Fameree (it rhymes with family) said.
Her 750-square-foot emporium is the kind of shop you can smell when you open the door.

Nontoxic hand soaps, room sprays, candles and linen sprays combine to form an olfactory infusion of peppermint-lemon, lavender and vanilla cupcake.

Woodgrain accents from handcrafted cherry cheese boards and walnut kitchen and bar utensils add visual warmth.

Cable spools in rough-cut pine live a second life as display tables and, along with the exposed galvanized steel spiral ducts from the new HVAC system, create an industrial/Scandinavian aura.

SmithMaker Artisan has only been open since late July, and already some items, such as the curly-maple cribbage boards shaped like Wisconsin and made in Eau Claire, are sold out.

A Kettle Moraine company makes bird feeders and oriole perches out of recycled plastic bottles.

The store offers gifts to reflect the personality quirks of gifter or giftee: velvet pumpkins; laser-cut wood Betty White key fobs; tiny picnic tables for squirrels (so the bushy-tailed varmints will stay out of the bird feeder); and Wisconsin-style old-fashioned glasses adorned with a wreath of deer antlers.

Opportune and inopportune time

After signing the building lease in February, Fameree and her family took advantage of the quarantine months to renovate the former investment office.

Her brother Jake Smith ripped down drop ceilings and partition walls, ripped up carpet, laid new wood flooring, and drywalled and plastered throughout.

They created a segregated spot at the back of the building for her CPA-husband Chris’s office, as well as a remote-learning space for the couple’s four kids, ages 4 to 11.

Fameree said she didn’t set out to go bigtime online.

“The idea was to bring people into small stores again,” she said. “We were in a moment where ‘support local’ was here to stay.”

But, COVID-19 decided it was here to stay for a while, as well.

“When we realized the pandemic wasn’t going away, we figured we would open the store, but do it as safely as we can,” Fameree said.

So, along with using masks and sanitizers, it offers curbside pickup and online ordering.

But despite offering no-contact sales, most are being done in person.

She said she estimates only 5 percent of her sales are curbside pickups and 15 percent of her sales are online.

It’s allowed a geographically farther reach for Wisconsin entrepreneurs.

“It’s exciting to ship to Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona,” she said.

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