Lindsay Fritz and Betsy Trimble can tell you all about the people who make much of the merchandise displayed on the shelves, deep window sills and curved attic stairs of Stonehouse Collective in Quarryville.

There’s the artist who paints while her children are napping, a couple of local teachers and a pot-bellied-pig-owning Airbnb host who created an organic skin care line inspired by her family’s own challenges.

“That’s another young mom,” Trimble says, nodding toward an arrangement of magnets and such in an upstairs room. “This is her thing. Raising her babies and working her business.”

And so it goes for each of the roughly 40 vendors who sign six-month contracts to sell their wares in the circa-1850 structure where Stonehouse Collective opened in September. It’s a lot like a craft fair that vendors don’t have to sit at, Fritz says. The business model is not new, but it’s lately been picking up energy at similar arrangements across Lancaster County.

“I do feel like within the last couple of years it’s become hugely popular out of necessity,” Trimble says. “We’ve realized communities can meet our own needs. We’ve got this. We can all take care of each other.”

A national trend

Becky McCray shares a similar message when she gives talks in small towns across the country. She’s visited many retail collectives — from a marketplace that includes a single-wall bookstore near her rural Oklahoma home to a collection of tiny shops resembling a spaghetti western movie set in Tionesta. Many of the roughly 500 residents of that northwest Pennsylvania town rallied to build those after fire destroyed a century-old block along the Allegheny River.

McCray — a rural community consultant and cattle rancher — has written about such retail collaborations for years. After the pandemic hit, she noticed a marked increase.

“It’s exploded,” she says. “There are so many more now. Which is great.”

Collectives can knock down business-entry barriers, she says.

“That’s true whether we’re in small towns, where the barrier is having enough market, or if we’re in big cities, where the barriers might be rising or escalating prices or limited space availability,” she says.

Collectives can serve as physical touchpoints for businesses previously selling exclusively on platforms like Etsy or springboards for those still contemplating online sales.

“People can find out what’s working today and then apply it,” she says.

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Artisan Mill

Tanna Walker poses with her hats at Artisan Mill 813 Rothsville Road in Warwick Township Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

‘A great little community’

Tanna Walker, who lives in Little Britain Township and runs a business called Freckled Feather, says she’s learned a lot from fellow vendors at the collectives in which she sells hats.

“Everybody is so supportive. I was totally outside my comfort zone doing this and the network I’ve made with other makers is amazing,” she says. “It might be, ‘I found this works better for scheduling small groups’ or ‘This app is perfect for tracking your inventory.’ Everybody just helps everybody. Everybody wants to collaborate. It’s just a great little community.”

Freckled Feather creations can be found in Artisan Mill Co. in Lititz and Makers Cottage (formerly Pickled Pickles) in Oxford in Chester County. Walker also sets up hat bars at events like bridal showers. There, customers can pick from a variety of items to design their own hats. She’ll be running a hat bar on Small Business Saturday at Fern.ish Home in Lancaster.

“I went to my first hat bar when we were traveling in Texas. I really enjoyed doing it,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is such a cool experience. I have to bring this to Pennsylvania.’ ”

Walker — who works a day job at a real estate firm — sources the majority of her hats from Bollman Hat Co. in Adamstown, where she grew up, and as many accessories as possible from vintage stores like Joy’s Antiques, just down the road from where she lives now.

There’s a waiting list of 200 people looking for a spot like the one she has at Artisan Mill Co., says Ashley Gantz, who — with her husband, Ian — opened that collective in 2020.

The Gantzes were driving past the restored mill on the way to ice hockey practice as the “for lease” sign was going up on the 1800s structure. Ashley, who makes jewelry, and Ian, who owns a clothing company, knew what they wanted to do in response to the pandemic’s business impact.

“We took a hit,” she says. “As small business owners we knew how hard it was and we had a lot of friends who were hurting.”

Opening Artisan Mill was a way to help, she adds.

Betsy Trimble and her husband, Jason, used to sell rings, keychains and more at Artisan Mill, and say they’ve received valuable advice from the Gantzes about operating collectives. The Trimbles don’t only have Stonehouse Collective. They first opened Lampeter Corner Boutique, a collection of vendors inside the former Lampeter Café. Betsy says they found out about that Lampeter opportunity within about a month of learning the Quarryville building was also for rent.

Trimble furnished much of her home as a newlywed with items she bought inside the latter, back when the now long-gone Stonehouse Traditions was there. The building more recently briefly housed a gun store. Running two collectives was too much for the Trimbles to tackle alone, so they teamed with Lindsay and Nick Fritz for Stonehouse.

Betsy Trimble says there are a few crossover vendors but she tries to keep the mix distinct.

The items in Stonehouse are also different from another collective arrangement just down the street. That’s Showroom on State Street, which grew organically from a holiday pop-up event a few years ago at A & A Auto Sales & Service.

Around that same time, Katie Hess opened the roughly 20-vendor Gather Home Boutique & Furniture in Conestoga behind Conestoga Wagon Restaurant.

“A lot of them are all within about 10 minutes from here, which is super fun and a lot easier for them because they can just swing by and drop off stuff,” Hess says.

She knows the craft show circuit can be grueling and finds satisfaction in offering them an alternative to grinding out shows every week.

“I love being able to help people buy groceries, pay their mortgage, whatever,” Hess says.

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Reducing small business stress

Rising prices, high demand and “the ever-changing world” can make things difficult for small business owners, says Charley Montgomery, owner of Trellis Marketplace Collective in Elizabethtown.

“Working within an artisan collaborative can help mitigate a lot of that stress for a local artisan or small business man or woman, depending on how well the shop or market is run,” she says.

Trellis, which has 30-plus vendors, opened in a renovated church building in 2017. Others have since joined the collective scene in Elizabethtown, including WhirliGig Unique Boutiques, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary inside a building called Hub on Market.

“There is always the danger of market saturation when it comes to the retail space, but I never fear it,” Montgomery says. “I believe retail owners who work collaboratively with vendors to their best ability have an obligation to keep our shops completely unique.”

WhirliGig has over 60 vendors.

“While we do have a number of these boutiques in Elizabethtown and other surrounding towns such as Lititz, that just makes us more of a destination,” says Stacey Derck, who runs WhirliGig.

Fueling the vendor pipeline are trends like increased social sharing of ideas on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Facebook, Derck says.

“COVID’s shutdown gave many people the time and curiosity to get their creative juices flowing and focus on hobbies, side-hustles or great ideas they had tucked away for a rainy day,” she says. “It also drove some makers who would normally sell at makers markets to join these collectives due to decreased markets, potential health risks and other reasons.”

Building Character in Lancaster is going into its 16th holiday season.

“We opened in 2007 when very few co-operative marketplaces were combining vintage/retro goods with local handmade merchandise,” says owner Marty Hulse.

He views that time period as the beginning of the movement to showcase, appreciate and support quality, handmade products. The “green” movement was also then picking up speed.

“It was the perfect time to offer a co-op marketplace business model, especially for people who wanted to be creative and still keep full-time employment in or out of the house,” he says. “And since the pandemic, people have really embraced the ‘shop local’ mantra and have been very supportive.”

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