A Look Inside Urban Matter’s Beautiful, Newly Remodeled Dutchtown Space
Amy Schafer and Mary Hennesy had dreams of opening up a unique space to showcase the work of local and regional makers ever since the pair began dating several years ago. Their dream came to fruition in the form of Urban Matter, a space that serves as their home, storefront and workspace. Urban Matter recently underwent a remodel—a necessary move toward expansion and a sign of the store’s growing success. We sat down with Mary and Amy to hear more about the remodel, as well as their thoughts on the local makers movement here in St. Louis.
Photos by Megan Magray.
Tell us a bit about why you decided to remodel the Urban Matter space.
Mary: To expand was the first reason. The second reason, which is a little unusual, is that we live upstairs, so part of the expansion was to conceal. But expanding was a bigger focus. We grew a lot this last holiday season, so we simply needed more room for merchandise.
Can you tell us about the features the new space offers?
Amy: As far as the work space, it’s actually in front of the windows now, so it makes more sense how it’s laid out; it has more of a focus. It allows me to look outside and get more natural light in.
Mary: Because we frequently have maker pop-ups, and because we live upstairs, we decided to have a bit of a kitchen space, so we can offer beverages, and we’re not always having to bring everything from the upstairs to the downstairs.
We can do community events and have more room, and it’s also nice to have an extra sink. It also lets us showcase our aesthetic a little bit. This sink is a lab sink we got off of Craigslist, and the slate surround is a piece of a pool table that Amy had found on the side of the road a few years ago. We were able to use some interesting features.
A lot of people had a hand in this [the remodel] which is cool. Our friend Tim Bliss, who owns Architectural Bliss, does welding. We found the wood for him on Riggins down on South Broadway, and Tim was able to weld a piece and come install it for us. We wanted to have a space for more food items, and we also started selling String Beans local coffee, so a lot of the features are letting us expand and show off what we can do.
Can you both tell us about your respective contributions/specialties for running UM, and why you feel that your partnership and skills pair so well?
Mary: We’ve been talking about this store for a really long time, back when we first started dating seven years ago. Sept. 9 will be our two-year wedding anniversary. So we’ve been talking about this well before we put the wheels into motion.
Amy: We mesh really well because Mary’s really good at front-of-house and talking to people; I’m better at making things. It’s almost like a front-of-house, back-of0house sort of thing. We definitely both have our strengths that compliment the other person’s strengths.
Mary: There’s usually not a lot of “Don’t do that,” but more of “You should do that.” So I feel like we’re really encouraging with each other. We have a similar aesthetic.
Amy: Whatever weaknesses I have, are really [Mary’s] strengths, and it’s sort of back and forth in that way. We can pick up most of the things that need to happen.
Amy, as a maker, why do you feel that shops like UM are necessary for the growth and development of the maker movement and economy?
Amy: The internet is huge for that, because you can be little and have the time, energy and money to do stuff. I think the internet is one entity and it’s not touchy-feely and you put out a story and it’s your own.
One thing we try to do here is that we’ve met and we know or have had long conversations with everyone whose work is in the store. We can certainly offer a backstory that you may not get from what you can order on the internet. You get to feel and touch things.
Because they’re small makers, if there’s something you want changed a little bit, we have the ability to make something custom. We give people a lot of encouragement and go out on a limb. It may be the first time they put stuff out anywhere.
Mary: Angela from Enamel, lives in our neighborhood, and she came in and said “I make things,” and it instantly started a dialogue. I was really excited about having her in here, and we really learned a lot from each other. I think having any kind of small or localized store helps the maker and the artist tell their story and be heard, and it gives them a venue to explore their craft.
I think they’re really important to our local maker economy. I think our whole community has exploded in the last couple of years, and it’s been really fun to watch and get to meet people that way.
Amy: Tech Shop is opening up in the Cortex area, and it’s sort of a pay-by-the-month for people to be able to use tools you wouldn’t be able to afford by yourself. I think that will be huge for the makers, because you’ll have somewhere to go.
Is there something else that can be done to help support local and regional makers?
Mary: Our communities need to be made more aware that yes, sometimes items made locally or by hand might cost a little more than what you might find in a big-box store such as Target etc., but when you support a local maker/artist’s work, you are also helping support your local community, neighborhood and economy, which helps us support one another on a bigger scale and in a positive way.
For a first-hand look at the new space and Urban Matter‘s large roster of locally made merchandise, visit the Dutchtown space at 4704 Virginia Ave.