The Brief History of a Downtown Retail and Artist Hub

Print More

Last October, Kindred Raleigh Boutique, an combination of business mentorship and retail space for fledgling artisans, opened with a champagne-filled party at 131 S. Wilmington St.

But by January, EntreDot, a Cary business incubator that was the primary financial partner, abruptly pulled the plug.

Six months on, Michelle Smith, the other business partner in Kindred and its former creative director, is picking up the pieces and regrouping with Gather, a new co-working and studio space for artisans she’s opening in downtown Cary.

Michelle Smith in her new artisan space, Gather, to open late August in downtown Cary. Gather is planned to be a co-working, studio and professional development space for emerging artisans, along with a retail “pop-up” shop to be held every quarter.

Monica Chen / Raleigh Public Record

Michelle Smith in her new artisan space, Gather, to open late August in downtown Cary. Gather is planned to be a co-working, studio and professional development space for emerging artisans, along with a retail “pop-up” shop to be held every quarter.

This time, Gather is all Smith’s own. Smith, a product designer and supporter of the local artisan community is putting in her own money. It’s also her lease on the space, her management of the workshops and the retail, and her own ideas on how to move forward.

“It’s small-scale, low-key, and on my own terms,” Smith said during a recent interview.

Kindred’s closure was a heavy blow to Smith, who still speaks wistfully and with frustration of her vision. Since 2008, Smith said, she had been developing the business plan for something like Kindred, which she called her “dream business.” When EntreDot came along with the downtown Raleigh lease, she jumped at the opportunity.

The closure also took away one of the few places in downtown Raleigh – which has tried to attract the “creative class” in recent years – where artisans new to retail could find a jumping-off point. The concept combined business training with the energy of an artisan workshop and storefront.

Smith brought on artisans such as Mas Satos, a children’s furniture maker in Durham, who built the modular wall units at Kindred. She also linked up with The Makery, the online retail startup that was in the well-publicized Smoffice in downtown Durham.

Then, in Smith’s view, the rug got pulled out from under them. The story of why that happened is still murky.

According to Smith, EntreDot had approached her about a year and a half ago with the lease in the prime spot owned by Empire Properties near Sitti Restaurant. Smith jumped at the opportunity, signed the contracts and became creative director.

EntreDot provided the space, the mentoring workshops and some of the financing. Smith used her connections within the artisan community to bring people on board, and Kindred was planned to be able to take on some 60 artisans for mentorship and to sell their wares in the space.

When EntreDot pulled the plug, Smith wrote on her blog that she had not been given the opportunity to restructure.

“I gave it 100 percent of myself but I did get burned despite that, and so did a lot of others,” she wrote. “To see it shut down faster than it took to build it is really sad.”

When reached for comment, EntreDot co-founder Bill Warner said they closed Kindred so quickly because it wasn’t breaking even.

“And we couldn’t foresee how it ever could,” he said.

Many small businesses need more than one financial quarter to break even, but Warner said the retail component wasn’t bringing in the amount of money they expected.

“We had hopes that there would be certain sources of income. But it was not the case, so we had to close it quick,” Warner said. “We followed our own advice, ‘Fail early, fail quick’.”

Although EntreDot shuttered Kindred, it had financial resources to open two other incubators this year, one in North Raleigh and one in Pittsboro. The company now operates four incubators in the Triangle.

Smith said EntreDot still owes money to her and other artisans.

Warner declined to comment on whether or not that’s true.

By all indications, relations between Smith and EntreDot have turned icy. When asked to
comment on Gather, Warner said, “Never seen it, never heard of it.”

Gather is located about a block from EntreDot in downtown Cary.

EntreDot, the small business incubator that provided the space and mentoring programs for Kindred Raleigh Boutique, is based in the Cary Innovation Center in downtown Cary.

Monica Chen / Raleigh Public Record

EntreDot, the small business incubator that provided the space and mentoring programs for Kindred Raleigh Boutique, is based in the Cary Innovation Center in downtown Cary.

Although Warner decried the viability of Kindred’s retail component, Wilmington Street and surrounding areas have been filling up with high-end retail the past two years. Since early 2012, Lumina Clothing Company, the jewelry store Moon and Lola, and – after Kindred closed – High Cotton Ties have opened.

At least one artisan with Kindred, Jill’s Jewels, was able to move to Deco Raleigh, a boutique that opened around the same time as Kindred.

Greg Hatem, CEO of Empire, said he could not shed light on what happened with Kindred since the lease was with only EntreDot.

“I thought it was perfect. I thought it fit in with what everyone is trying to do, especially around Wilmington and Hargett,” he said. “We want to incentivize retail in downtown Raleigh, so we’ve done that in recent years. I don’t think we’ve done anything too different with them than others.”

Whatever happened with Kindred, Smith said it actually made her warm up to retail.

Previously, she preferred to work out her creativity in the studio instead of being the one
manning the counter, but working on Kindred made her learn new skills.

“I feel like I had been challenged and I was able to flex my creative muscles, and I realized I do want pop-up shops, studio space,” Smith said. “I feel like it was an unfinished chapter.”

Gather is slated to open in downtown Cary Aug. 24, during the Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival.

3 thoughts on “The Brief History of a Downtown Retail and Artist Hub

  1. How very bizarre that this article wouldn’t mention Epona and Oak? E&O is a handmade-themed brick and mortar business in downtown Raleigh (at 329 Blake Street) that’s been open for five years! It sells handmade goods from local start-ups and national bestsellers alike and is an excellent location to help a young artist get off the ground, plus there is a really cool body/wellness component. You can do yoga, get a massage, or get a facial with locally-made skincare products from Ablutions. It is beyond rad! I am dismayed by what happened at Kindred but between Epona and Oak, Design Box, the Collector’s Gallery, DECO, and Anvil there are *many* other opportunities for artists in the downtown area. (I am pretty sure I am forgetting some!)

  2. Very cool article, although a portion of it speaks to the demise of one chapter (kindred). I am thrilled that Michelle has this new opportunity with Gather and I wish her much success.

    As a former artisan at kindred, I can attest to the fact that many artisans are still owed money. I am one of those artisans. It was an abrupt closure, without much explanation and we were left with promises to settle up debts that are still outstanding, eight months later. Further, I find it appalling that EntreDot has capital to open 2 additional incubators. I only hope that those artisans at the other locations don’t have to suffer through the same experiences that we’ve had.

    And to the other comments above, yes, there are other opportunities in Raleigh for artisans. The places that you mentioned are all great. Really, really great. I have either sold art or purchased it at each of them. And we are very lucky to have such places to purchase and sell art in Raleigh. The difference is that the other locations did not share all of the same business objectives as kindred and were not the vision of Michelle Smith, which are the subjects of the article. And thus, not really relevant in this particular context. I certainly have read and seen articles written about each of those places, and deservedly so. This speaks to a new chapter and the opening of Gather. There is room for everyone to shine and sometimes it’s okay if the spotlight, however small, shines on one person at any given time. Michelle has earned the right to have this moment.

  3. Definitely! You are so right that it’s okay for the spotlight to shine on one person at a time! I responded the way I did because I was afraid that a person uninitiated with the Raleigh handmade scene would think there were no opportunities here for artists any more and would take their product elsewhere. I just wanted to get across the idea that it’s still vibrant and full of opportunity to those readers who might have just moved here or might be considering moving here, etc. So sorry to hear about the debt owed to you, Tiffany–I hope it works out!