Retail Reimagined: Shared Spaces Give Shoppers More Options | Local company

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ST. LOUIS — A rotating rack of glasses watches over Procure’s cash register, alongside a display of pearl bracelets and a box of eco-friendly lip balm.

The store across from City Foundry’s Food Hall in downtown also offers beer koozies and bucket hats; a multitude of CBD products; yoga accessories, baby accessories and dog accessories. There are jars of jam, honey harvested from Show-Me State bees, and premium handmade soaps.

The range of goods from more than two dozen companies has a common thread.

“We’ve basically created a large local women-owned business store,” said Christina Weaver, co-founder of the Women’s Collective, which operates Procure.

The store moved into its home in the mixed-use development in February after operating pop-ups for four years. Like a brick-and-mortar Etsy, it’s part of a reimagining of retail that caters to customers who want a unique opportunity for variety, novelty, and convenience — but not in a cavernous, nondescript mall.

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The shared-space model isn’t new: antique stores, consignment stores, and farmers’ markets have been around for decades. But a curated, small-footprint marketplace that elevates the stories of its vendors has just begun to find its footing.

“The premise is really strong,” said Jason Long, St. Louis consultant at Eye on Retail. “People want to shop local but aren’t going to dig and search.”

Entrepreneurs benefit from the economy of scale of advertising and work-sharing. They can expand their geographic reach and gather feedback on new products without investing in additional staff hours.

La’Crassia Wilderness credits Union Studio with helping take her Butter Love Skin line from “fun but exhausting” flash sales to retail shelves. She first sold her whipped body butter, in scents like rosemary mint and lush lavender, at the Botanical Heights store in 2018. Now her all-natural lotions are in more than 130 stores nationwide.

“Union Studio has been a very big part of my growth,” Wilderness said.

Mary Beth Bussen designed the boutique almost ten years ago as a versatile workspace. When Sarah Kelley joins her, they bring in a dozen artists.

“At first nobody found us,” Bussen said.

It was a slow build, but in 2020 they added a location in Webster Groves, and their contributors – from painters and potters to calligraphers and candle makers – grew to 150. Everything is handmade and everyone is native to the region.

Union Studio pays some artists on consignment and buys merchandise wholesale. The price is higher than with mass-produced goods and their profit margin is slim. It’s not the simplest business model.

“If you want creative people to live in your community and do their work, they need to benefit financially,” Kelley said. “You need to be more intentional with your purchases.”

Urban renewal

John Chen launched a shared kitchen concept two years ago called Urban Eats. The real estate investor split the cafe he already owned on the first floor of the Dutchtown building he also lives in. Four restaurants offer counter service and dozens of chefs rent out the commercial kitchen. The pandemic reboot was a success.

“I’m an accidental micro-developer,” Chen said.

When a small storefront became available across the street, next to the fourth-generation Winkelmann pharmacy, Chen took it and named it Wink.

It is only open three days a week and serves as a sort of showroom for its four tenants. They pay a monthly fee, which includes storage, using the space to hold events, and equipment to update their websites and social media feeds.

Foot traffic has been light so far. Chen is working on converting Urban Eaters to Wink. The effort goes beyond sales, he said. It accompanies the revitalization of the district.

“Especially in a low-income community, you need something that people can start inexpensively,” Chen said.

For years, Paula Williams of South St. Louis has supplemented her day job selling fashionable shoes: candy-colored gladiator sandals, thigh-high boots and pumps. She had considered finding space for her Shoetopia, but that seemed like too big a leap.

The Wink provided a bridge. Williams finally has room to display his shoes. Most Saturdays, she pulls up a table outside, ties up balloons and tries to entice the noontime Urban Eats crowd to cross Meramec Street to take a look.

“My dream is always to have my own storefront, but I like the idea of ​​an incubator,” Williams said. “You are not alone out there alone.”

‘Solopreneurs’ and ‘scalers’

When Women’s Creative moved Procure’s monthly pop-ups to the sidewalks of City Foundry last summer, shoppers flocked. Procure was to be permanent, the collective decided.

Finding the right mix of products was a challenge in the beginning when the store opened its doors during the winter. Most brands sell on consignment; larger ones also pay a monthly fee. The store was home to nearly 30 women-owned businesses in its second quarter, with a goal of reaching 50 by the holidays.

“Everyone comes with different expectations and desires,” said Nina Geers, inventory manager at Procure.

Caitlin Burling from Troy, Illinois found Procure on Instagram. She stopped by on a recent Thursday, carrying her baby, Edith, in a sling. The 2-month-old went home with some new onesies, a bib and a pair of purple sunglasses, for when she can hold her head up high.

“I think the concept is great,” Burling said. “It encourages people to buy local.”

Procure suppliers fall into two categories, Geers said. Solopreneurs are one-woman businesses, and scalers are looking to grow their businesses. A few, like Webster Groves-based Kind Soap, already have a store and use Procure as a testing ground for new products.

Connie Bourgeois launched her beach-inspired clothes, called Gyal Bashy, in May and moved her collection of hats, tank tops and sweatpants to Procure on June 1. Two weeks later, she had to restock.

“As a small brand with limited marketing power, it’s invaluable,” Bourgeois said. “They have already laid the groundwork.”

The foundry animation was also a godsend. Adrienne Williams of West County St. Louis had never heard of Procure until she stopped by the Food Hall for lunch. She browsed through lotions and serums while her 17-year-old daughter, normally a mall goer, picked out a pair of pink Lucite earrings.

“There’s something for everyone,” Williams said. “More people should come here.”


As coronavirus pinches wallets, more shoppers are making second-hand their first choice


Homemade lotion bars.  DIY lip balm.  Deodorant paste.  St. Louis businesses take care of a sustainable lifestyle

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