Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 6, 2011

Artisans expand store

By Daniel Human
Tribune business writer

— 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.

Almost every vendor at Eileen and Friends, Rhoads said, uses arts and crafts sales to supplement income they receive from full-time jobs.

“They do a lot of shows, and they do well at them,” she said, “but in placing stands, they can pool their resources.”

As vendor Ronda Patton finished arranging a bridal bouquet in her room, she was quick to speak of the importance of diversifying business, even in arts and crafts.

Patton, who opened Queeny’s Wedding Designs, Etc. at the craft mall this year, pairs the business with what she brings in at a cafe she runs in Peru, Grandma Mason’s Restaurant.

“You can’t just have a restaurant,” she said. “You have to be versatile.”

Having a new, larger building than the previous location on Main Street in Peru gives space for two or three more vendors to set up full-room shops on the main level once more renovations finish.

A 5,200-square-foot basement, once restored, could accommodate up to 60 more stands.

Rhoads said she also wants to convert space in the basement, which was previously a game room for the American Legion, into an area for classes in painting, quilting, crocheting, scrapbooking and ceramics.

• Daniel Human is the

Kokomo Tribune business

reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at daniel.human@kokomo