Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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November 6, 2011

Artisans expand store

— PERU — For Eileen and Friends Craft Mall, the approach has been opposite of every man for himself.

Every woman has worked together.

This year has been a team effort among the craft store’s nearly 60 vendors, almost all of whom are women except for a few men who sell items such as wood carvings and carpentry.

The group has moved to a former American Legion building in Peru and brought on three more merchants, all while enduring another year in which, according to Indiana University researchers, the U.S. economy “managed to under-achieve even relative to our unambitious expectations.”

It has been a lot of sleepless nights and nail biting over the last few months, according to Eileen and Friends owner Beth Rhoads. But the support network among the small-town craft store’s vendors has sustained the business.

“With the economy, we’ve just got to stick together,” she said.

The craft mall began operating at 33 E. 6th St., Peru, in March. Vendors will show off their building on a larger scale with a public open house Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Rhoads, who sells clothing for decorative stone geese, said vendors, volunteers and contractors had to renovate almost all of the 65-year-old building, which sat empty for about five years. That has meant combining wall painting and other aesthetic improvements with highly technical plumbing and HVAC repairs.

“It was interesting the first time we turned the water on,” Rhoads said.

Fifty-nine craft vendors, three of whom are new this year, have set up throughout the main level of the former American Legion hall.

As Rhoads walked through her store last week, occasionally stopping to highlight clothes, quilts, holiday decorations and other crafts for sale, she proudly noted everything was made in the U.S. and all sales fueled the local economy.

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