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‘The Atlantic’ Shines A Spotlight on the I Heart Denver Store

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‘The Atlantic’ Shines A Spotlight on the I Heart Denver Store
Check out this terrific profile of the I Heart Denver Store in The Atlantic.

A retail store for local, independent artists that gives 70% of its profits back to the creators.

 

David Rasmussen has been designing and handcrafting custom wooden furniture for more than 15 years, building everything from cabinets to tree houses. Recently, the Carbondale, Col.-based craftsman and his team have also begun experimenting with developing product lines, such as wooden plates and bike shelves. “We’re refining the process,” he says. “We’re getting really good at making things.”

 

He is one of more than 130 Colorado artists spotlighted at the I Heart Denver Store, located at the Denver Pavilions in the heart of the Downtown District. The shop features a broad mix of handmade artwork, apparel, and other products by independent Colorado artists and creators, including those who are just launching their careers as well as veterans of the state’s arts scene. I Heart Denver Store is dedicated to supporting that community: 70 percent of all sales go directly to the artists each month.

 

“I love their business model,” says Rasmussen. “They only take a 30 percent margin, where normally it’s much higher. It helps artists reinvest in their work.”

 

I Heart Denver store is the latest version of a concept that the store’s proprietor, Samuel Schimek, has been involved with for more than two years. It originated as a small pop-up shop in a vacant building as part of Create Denver, a civic initiative that promotes the local creative community.

 

“We built a weeklong store in a vacant store that featured 27 local artists,” he says. The diverse collection ranged from a $1 button to a $3,000 oil painting, with everything in between. The shop was a hit with tourists and locals alike. “It got so much attention that we decided to expand it,” says Schimek.

 

From there, the city helped Schimek develop and promote a series of pop-up stores with short-term leases in vacant buildings around the city, known as YesPleaseMore. Commercial property owners were willing to donate their space rent-free to support the project, keeping overhead expenses low. The project benefitted the property owners as well, by putting a spotlight on the neighborhoods and boosting their reputations and commercial viability.

 

In April, Schimek and his retail shop made the move to the new space in Denver Pavilions, where the store has a two-year, partially subsidized lease. “We were able to grow the program and turn it into a viable retail location,” says Schimek.

 

The store operates on a consignment-based model, but artists are able to recoup more revenue than they would with a traditional 50-50 split, giving them the capital they need to continue growing their own businesses and developing new products.

 

Schimek views I Heart Denver Store as an incubator of sorts for the artists in the store’s collection. “We give them business advice and information on pricing techniques, marketing strategy, color trends, and other tips to help them grow their businesses,” says Schimek, who also designs products for the store himself.

 

Now, Schimek plans to expand I Heart Denver Store’s reach: The store will offer online ordering throughout the United States as of Spring 2013, and the recently re-launched website now offers a city guide filled with recommendations for Denver’s best independent shops, restaurants, and arts events. He’s also just written and directed the first of a series of educational webisodes filmed around the city; the new film, focused on Denver’s bike scene, spotlights many of the bike-themed items in the store. The videos are intended to help spotlight both the store’s offerings, and everything that the city of Denver has to offer to visitors and residents.

 

Schimek is also working to make the store self-sustainable without outside financial support. “We want to be here for the long-term,” he says. By growing as a business, the store can help the region’s arts community thrive.

 

“The store is a reflection of Denver’s creative community,” he says.

 

Kathryn Hawkins – Kathryn Hawkins is a journalist based in Southern Maine who focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. She has served as a contributing editor for CBS Interactive’s BNET.com, and written for publications including GOOD Magazine, Portfolio.com, and PBS’ NextAvenue.