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Happy Birthday Inkling!

Inkling's One Year Anniversary

Customers make a quick purchase during the festivities. June 3, 2011. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

On June third, Inkling, a handmade gift shop in Lakeview, was full of life. The air inside was thick from the heat that comes with a large group of people engaged in lively conversation. In the back sat a generous display of cupcakes and beer and people were not shy about taking seconds. It was Inkling’s one-year anniversary after all. There was cause to celebrate.

Inkling, like Renegade Handmade and Shop Columbia, is one of the few retail stores that have cropped up in the past five years focusing on handmade goods. Made by artists and crafters, the items sold are bold, surprising, and inventive. When I asked owner Stephanie Keller what originally inspired her to open the shop, she explained it was the very artists who fill Inkling with their work. “There are many talented people in Chicago and they work very hard juggling jobs, life, and their art. They want to do what they love for a living, and in a small way I’d like to help them reach that goal. By opening Inkling I’ve created a venue to showcase their work. Every day…is like being at a craft fair, surrounded by friends and their beautiful creations.”

Considering the economic climate a year ago, Stephanie definitely took a risk opening shop. When I asked her what it was like to start the business, she explained, “I know that there were people out that were worried for me. They couldn’t believe that I was going to quit my job and open a store-front in this economy but I was totally convinced I could make it work. I learned a lot about myself in a very short time period…I’m very stubborn and don’t often ask for help but people came out of the woodwork. They graciously offered their time and talents. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them and am forever grateful.”

Committed to weathering the economy, for the majority of the past year, Stephanie has run the store single-handedly. That has meant corresponding with about thirty artists from Chicago and dozens more from across the country. When I asked her what it was like to work with so many people, she was excited by the idea, not overwhelmed. “I’ve been very fortunate that since the moment I opened, creative people have gravitated [to] Inkling. It has become a meeting place that has fostered many artist collaborations. It’s fantastic to see people inspiring each other and getting excited talking about their artistic endeavors.”

Inkling's One Year Anniversary

Visitors sit next to new artwork by Britton Walters. June 3, 2011. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

Indeed, Inkling has become a kind of cultural hub on Broadway Street. Through art openings (the store contains a gallery wall, featuring a new artist’s work each month), various monthly craft meet ups (the shop hosts both Knit-n-Stitch and Chicago Church of Craft), and other events like the Lakeview East Arts Walk, Inkling has gathered people from all over the city under its roof. At the anniversary party, Stephanie remarked that it felt like a small town in the big city.

In fact, when I asked Stephanie why she thought the store had been successful, she listed the “chance for customers, neighbors, and artists to get to know one another” as a main reason. She also attributed the shop’s success to its appreciative customers and hardworking artists. Rosa Lannin, a crafter represented by the shop, instead saw Stephanie’s passion and expertise as a central factor. “You can really find what you’re looking for at Inkling”, She said. “It has a lot of variety, but Stephanie does a great job handpicking the items, so everything has a cohesive feel to it. You can attribute Stephanie’s success to her love for the business and [the fact that] she knows the [handmade] scene really well.”

Overall, Inkling seems to embody the good-natured, supportive attitude that characterizes Chicago’s craft scene. Crafters, artists, customers, and shop owners all enjoy supporting creativity and a personal connection between maker and consumer. This mutual encouragement is magnetic. It’s what brings 8,000 people to a craft fair on a Sunday, inspires new craft meet ups around the city, and ensures the success of shops like Inkling. Stephanie remarked that, “Over the last year I’ve formed incredible friendships that would have never happened if I hadn’t opened Inkling.” Judging by the conviviality of the anniversary party, when it comes to fostering new friendships, it looks like Inkling’s just getting started.

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