Michelle Christian and her friendly staff have worked tirelessly over the past ten years here in Southern Oregon to maintain the Ashland Artisan Emporium; a treasure-hunters paradise of over 180 vendors selling everything from books, music, clothing, household goods, rare and collectible finds and more. In today’s interview, I speak with Michelle about her journey and the amazing role the Emporium has filled for our community.
Hi Michelle, thanks so much for speaking with me today. To begin, congrats on your ten-year anniversary!
Thank you so much Shields! I am so proud of this milestone, especially considering the year the whole world has endured. Not only have we been able to survive, but we are thriving!
That’s great to hear Michelle. Can you please share a little bit of how the Emporium has evolved over the last decade?
We opened at the end of 2010, not really knowing if we could fill the booths or keep them filled. We had no idea if the community would like the idea or not – but my dad had a pretty good feeling that Ashland would like to have a year-round, one-stop marketplace featuring local goods. Turns out, they did like the idea. We were able to fill the booths within 60 days of opening and we have never been at less than 75% capacity at any given time. As we grew, we saw a whole new level of artisans wanting to participate. As our vendors settled in, they began to see what was selling and what was not, and adjustments were made. After a while, we began to use our open floor space to sell consignment furniture. We take in gently used furniture from anyone in the community wanting to sell. We try to make the process super easy and profitable for all, taking only 35% commission but keeping prices low. This has been a great resource as of late, especially considering the great need in our community after the fires destroyed so many homes. Since the devastating day of the Almeda Fire, we have met so many lovely people in need, and it has been a blessing to be able to listen to their stories and to help them replace what they lost, without them having to spend a lot of money. We are so willing to listen to their stories and to be a place where they can forget about the heartbreak for a minute. A bit of retail therapy amongst familiar items is always a balm for the soul, and that has been really satisfying for the staff and I. The Emporium has always been about PEOPLE, it’s about our community and helping one another. Shopping local isn’t just something we say, it’s our whole vision. And it means more than ever during this pandemic. We have to support our neighbors.
Your staff is really very kind and they seem to enjoy helping everyone. Please tell us more about that.
My greatest blessing has been my staff – I have been blessed with a long-time manager, Anna, who loves the store as much as I do. She wandered in one day about 8 years ago wanting to rent a wall space to sell her crafts and our partnership grew from there. She keeps me organized and handles the details that I forget or don’t even think of. I juggle 3 kids and a husband, so when things fall through the cracks she is right there to catch them. The rest of our team is equally as kind and knowledgeable! We all enjoy what we do, most of my staff are also talented artisans so they really enjoy helping other artisans get their products to buyers. This isn’t just a place we come to punch a clock, we really enjoy meeting people and connecting with one another. We spend a lot of time laughing together. Life is just too short to be miserable at work.
Can you give us a quick tour of some of the booths currently at the Emporium?
Yes! We are at 100% capacity again, after losing about 15% of our vendors right after Covid hit. We are well stocked with a wide variety of booths just in time for the Christmas season! We have recently added a handful of talented artists that have been showing their work at the Lithia Artisans Market. A lot of new vendors came to us because many Holiday markets have been canceled. They needed an outlet and we were happy to take them in! We also have been fortunate to welcome the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They are renting a booth that is stocked with authentic Shakespeare costumes hand made especially for their productions. We are gleeful to see so many amazing costumes passing hands and getting out into the community for amazing prices! They have a wide array of amazing costumes and bits and pieces, and nothing over $50! We also have a lot of fun vintage booths offering trendy vintage clothing at amazing prices. We love to see the variety of fashion choices being offered. Everything is unique and one-of-a-kind and LOCAL! Your Christmas shopping could be done in one day, under one roof and every dollar stays in our community.
Michelle, can you tell us more about the mission of your business?
Our mission is simple: connect local artisans, collectors, and re-sellers to the community. We offer affordable space to rent and an easy place for our community to shop. Our community is filled with so many talented people that may not have access to a brick-and mortar style setting to sell, so we provide that. We do all the bookkeeping and grunt work, so they can focus on their passions. And we keep things clean and organized, so the community can shop in safety with peace of mind. This is now more important than ever!
Michelle, tell us about the Great Big Holiday Raffle that I’ve been hearing about.
This is our first year doing this and we are super excited about it! (It was Anna’s idea.) We have 38 vendors participating, each offering up amazing and unique items for raffle. All proceeds of ticket sales will go to a long list of local charities. We are now selling tickets in bundles of 5 for $5. Come in to purchase and then wander around looking at all the great prizes, then drop your ticket or tickets into the candy cane tube at the booth(s) of your choice. We have a full list of prizes and charities at the front desk. The winners will be chosen on Christmas Eve so there is plenty of time to buy your tickets! Our most grand prize is a 4-piece exquisite couture Oregon Shakespeare Festival costume valued at over $2000! You have to check this out! Their proceeds will be donated to UNETE. The prizes are nothing less than spectacular, so please come in to see what we have!
Are there any last thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Please shop local this season!!! Support your local restaurants and stores, if you want to keep them around. More importantly, we just want to send out a big heartfelt thank you to our amazing community! Our doors are still open because of you! It’s because people keep coming back to shop and it’s because vendors are putting their heart into their booths. That love shows when you come here. We are so proud of our “little” store and the excitement over what we do here never goes away. I can’t believe it’s been ten years already. It really has flown by and I have been immeasurably enriched by the journey. I just can’t wait to see what the next decade holds. While most of the world is in fear, we are just grateful.