When I started working in book publishing, every week we’d hear about a local brick-and-mortar bookstore that was closing it’s doors due to the rise of Internet resellers and big box stores (RIP Borders) that were killing off our local independents. (Watch You’ve Got Mail if you missed this part of recent history.)
We aren’t naive any more. We learned through the grassroots “shop local” campaigns that gained momentum in 2007 and went mainstream when American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010. We know that if we want our favorite independent retailers to stick around, we have to put our money where our mouths are or these stores will disappear.
Meet Sheri Hauser, the owner of Tasty, an art and gift shop specializing in homemade, eclectic, and colorful collectibles located between the Greenwood and Phinney Ridge neighborhoods in Seattle.
When you walk into her shop, you’re greeted by bright green and pink walls and artwork from familiar faces like Justin Hillgrove’s Imps & Monsters intermixed with sculptures created from found objects. There are necklaces made with the most divine gemstones and handmade patchwork pillows that you wish your grandma knew how to make. As you move through the store, the walls are adorned from top-to-bottom with a mix of vintage, retro, and rockabilly artwork and style. It’s like you walk into a classic 1950s neighborhood shop but with 1990s edge.
On the last weekend before Christmas, I walked into Tasty for the first time. But before I could peek through the picture windows I saw the sign in big bold letters: CLOSING JANUARY 31, 2014. TASTY LOVES YOU, PHINNEYWOOD.
As I shopped, a regular popped into the store and greeted Sheri with open arms and asked, “Aren’t you sad that you’re closing?”
And Sheri answered with a smile: “What are you talking about? I’ve been living my dream and now I get to start a new career!”
Sheri’s optimism at a time of change confused me. I have so many friends that have poured their hearts and souls into building their own businesses and the collapse of which would not leave them facing their customers with a smile. I needed to know more about this – about Tasty, Sheri, and the arts scene in Seattle. So I sat down to interview Sheri and learn more about the story of Tasty.
What is Tasty?
[Laura] What was the catalyst for opening up the shop?
[Sheri] Honestly, it started as a way for my husband and I to practice being in business together. We had a long-standing dream of a future running a roadside attraction along some well-traveled coastal highway, “where the palm meets the pine.” We’d continue to refer to our dream in conversation, but had yet to take any steps to get us closer.
We decided [to open up Tasty in] Thanksgiving 2009, and by December 31st, 2009 we were signing a lease for 7513 Greenwood.
What was your inspiration or mission for the shop?
In the fall of 2007, while gainfully employed, I wanted to produce a weekend art fair of sorts to promote the talented artisans that were in my circle (it started with my fantastic mother-in-law who is a clay sculpture artist). The idea was I would invite a mixed range of designers and artists with a common-thread of funky and using my vast network of industry people, friends, and family promote the event as a fund-raiser for a local charity, Art With Heart, who I had been volunteering for over the years. It was a success and fueled the interest in further promoting local creatives.
What are you most proud of since Tasty opened?
I’m most proud of my role in forming The Art Walk Consortium in the fall of 2010. It was a non-profit group of volunteer reps from other neighborhoods, each of us producing our own independent monthly art walk. I hadn’t been open a month, when I realized an opportunity was around the corner. We’d have more art enthusiasts visit our shop during the big annual May Art Walk, then any of the other 11 months. I wanted to create a handout flyer to tell those annual visitors that they had a reason to return every second Friday throughout the year.
It was during the process of promoting Phinney & Greenwood’s monthly art walk, that I started wondering why there wasn’t an organization that united all Seattle neighborhood art walk promoters to exchange resources, connect on our shared mission, and champion community arts on a city-wide level. I started one with the help of three other equally passionate volunteers, we grew our group, partnered with Shunpike, giving us non-profit status, won a couple small grants allowing us to launch a website and produce ART IS EVERYWHERE flyers that listed 14 neighborhood art walks, in order of when they happen each month.
On Building an Art Community in Seattle
What’s the style of art that you to feature at Tasty?
Art is so subjective, because it means something different to everyone. I look for art that is character or figure based (as opposed to abstract art), rich in storytelling, often high in contrast (I like graphic art). I lean toward the funky, perhaps surreal side of the spectrum (away from conservative); you definitely would never have found a watercolor landscape at a Tasty exhibition.
What’s your favorite piece of art that’s in your personal collection at home?
Yikes! Just one? Hmmm…probably a mosaic I commission way pre-Tasty from an artist I met at the 619 Western Building, a Mecca for urban artists in the 90s. She used cut stained glass pieces on carved wood shapes. I was inspired by a piece in her collection, and asked her to intertwine the zodiac symbol of a Scorpio and Capricorn to represent me and my betrothed.
What value do you see art stores provide to the community?
A place to come for inspiration. Creativity can inspire hope and feed feelings of longing that exists in our souls. Through art, we can feel more connected to others. I buy art that is a reflection of myself, my beliefs, and ideas. I think sharing art with other people in your community helps you feel grounded and more purposeful. I feel joy when I look at the art that I’ve purchased over the years (my collection started at 22 while working for Rep Art in Vancouver, BC as an advertising agent for commercial illustrators, I can still tell you in detail about the first painting I ever bought and stories about the creator).
Deciding it’s Closing Time
When did you realize it was time to close?
Doing taxes at the end of Q3 2013. The math couldn’t lie. We were down nearly 70% in sales three quarters in a row after growing steadily and being in the black for 3 years. I wasn’t prepared to sustain a loss beyond the year, so I knew then that 2014 would be short lived for our retail adventure.
What options did you consider to save the shop?
None really. There had been ideas prior, about ways to generate additional revenue such as art classes, business consulting, merchandising art products. For a short while we considered selling our business, but in the end, we realized that Tasty could have a future life as a pop-up concept or even something at the street fair level and it was simply time to close the storefront and look forward to a new, more financially sustainable career.
What has being the proprietress of a local art shop taught you?
That one strong-willed business owner CAN make a difference! That, AND, if your shop isn’t a reflection of what you love, it will never be an authentic business and that is more important (to me) than making money.
How do you feel about closing your shop?
Grateful that I even had the opportunity to open a retail storefront in the first place! Sad for the friendships that will fade. Relieved that I’ll have weekends off again. Curious about my future career.
The Thing About Shopping Local
How does your shop closing and ones like yours affect your artists? Where will they go to showcase their work?
At first it might feel like pressure for the artist to develop a relationship with other venues where their works can be sold. When more shops close—inevitable with the growth of online sales—the artists will need to be more fiercely independent and force them to “market smarter” via the internet and social media outlets.
But it could also have the reverse affect and make artists more community-minded—maybe they will share resources and find ways to engage tech savvy partners to keep them fresh on the webs and find promoters to keep them top of mind at street fairs—allowing the designers more time in their studios where they are the happiest.
The phrase “shop local” has been engrained in our language and has recently evolved into “shop independent.” Are these two phrases the same, different, or do they work hand-in-hand?
Just because a store is ‘down the street’ doesn’t mean it’s locally owned and operated. An independent business, by definition, is one that isn’t part of a chain or national/global conglomerate. Tasty became a founding member of Seattle Good Business Network’s “Think Local” campaign. They have compelling stats on what it means to shop local, and revenue percentage that is re-invested back into the community by shopping at independently owned establishments.
If you could do it all over again, would you? And what would you do the same or differently?
YES! Without Question! Mostly the same, but here are my top 3 learnings:
A) Credit card processing companies are the devil, especially, “Payment Systems.” Don’t ever sign a contract with them! Use flat rate portable, no contract required systems like Square.
B) Hire a student to upload web content. It can be done off-site and it’s time consuming and repetitive and definitely tested my patience.
C) Volunteer in your business community. It generates goodwill, pride, and a feeling of connectedness to something bigger than your four walls.
When One Chapter Closes, Another Opens
What are your plans next? What are you looking forward to?
To find something else I love doing. I am looking forward to the routine of a Monday-Friday, 9-5 job. The lazy mornings of boutique hours was nice when I decided to stay out too late on a weeknight, but generally speaking I miss having weekends off. I am also looking forward to being a part of a team again, there is a special synergy that can be generated when bringing enthusiasm into the workplace, and I kinda miss that shared energy.
How can we support you this last month?
What a nice question. I was stumped at first, aside from saying, come buy more stuff so I can write bigger checks at months end to the hard-working artists… but then I realized, the best support is to tell more people not to walk in sad that I am closing, but rather congratulate me and be excited for my new future. Don’t ask me WHY I’m closing, isn’t it obvious that if I love what I’ve been doing, that clearly this is a necessary change! Help me stay positive and grateful for what I’ve been allowed to do the past four years. //
Tasty’s doors will remain open until this Saturday, January 25th. Everything, including displays and fixtures, are for sale and all art is at least 20% off. If you are in Seattle this week, GO to 7513 Greenwood Ave North. Meet Sheri and take a piece of Tasty with you.
Thank you, Sheri, for sharing your story. Excited to see what you build next!
All photos taken by me during Tasty’s last ArtWalk.