Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Area crafters have joined forces to open a store in the Atrium Mall, next door to a gallery started by Hi-Line artists also working as a cooperative.
Linda Warburton, one of the founders of Montana Crafters Co-op, said sales have been "pretty good" since the store opened Dec. 3.
"And I think it's just going to pick up," she added.
The store initially featured items made by Warburton, including canned and baked goods and craft items like dolls, doll furniture and Christmas wreaths. Also, Phil Moen sold his hand-crafted knives. Mike Blackwell's BLM Metals, which employs Moen's son, Miles Moen, produced silhouettes and other objects cut from sheet metal. Phil Moen's wife, Elaine Moen, sold handcrafted items like Christmas wreaths.
Since then, three or four other people have added their craft items, including crocheted work, handmade jewelry and wooden belt buckles. More people are asking about joining the effort almost daily, the store's founders said. Their only requirement is that the handmade items are of high quality.
Warburton said the group hopes many of the "literally hundreds" of people in the Havre area who make hand-crafted items join.
"Anybody that wants to talk to us, we'll see if we can fit them in," she said.
Warburton, who owned and operated Country Mercantile on First Street and now operates that store out of her home, has made and sold craft items for some 30 years. She said plans for Montana Crafters Co-op started at a craft show at the Holiday Village Shopping Center this fall, when she asked other craftspeople if they wanted to open a store similar to Art in the Atrium, a gallery opened by artists who are investigating forming a formal cooperative.
The Moens and Blackwell agreed to open the store with Warburton, and a new business was born.
Vicky Campbell, a member of Art in the Atrium, said the gallery has done very well since it opened in September. It has grown to 32 members, continues to hold well-attended receptions every other Friday for featured artists, and has extended its lease with Atrium owner Dave Shaw for four more months after Christmas.
"We've had great sales," Campbell added.
Warburton said the crafters intend to keep their store open year-round.
Cheryl MacArthur, executive director of the Montana Cooperative Development Center in Great Falls, said a study about whether a cooperative would be the best form of business for Hi-Line artists is ongoing. The results of a second survey sent out to artists in the Havre area are being compiled and will be analyzed by Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre, she said.
Campbell said the members of the artists group are working with the Montana Cooperative Development Center to draft bylaws for a cooperative.
Phil Moen said creating a legal cooperative is the plan of the crafters as well.
Having a cooperative allows members to pool and leverage their money and provides some tax, employment and liability advantages.
Both stores require that members pay a fee to cover the store's lease and expenses like utility bills, and donate their time to work shifts. Members who are not able to work pay a higher fee.
Montana Crafters Co-op offers both pre-made and custom-made items.
Phil Moen can make knives to order, he said, as he showed a reporter a left-handed knife with a redwood handle.
The same is true of BLM's sheet-metal items. BLM can scan and digitize virtually any image to run through the machine, which uses super-heated gases and an electrical arc directed by a computer to cut sheet metal to a specified shape.
One wall at Montana Crafter's Co-op is filled with items cut by the plasma cutter, ranging from a coat rack underneath a stagecoach to gate signs complete with address and name.
"We can do anything, really," Blackwell said. "Whatever people can dream up, we'll do."
Warburton said that is true of all the crafters with Montana Crafters Co-op, although if people want a special order completed by Christmas, it would have to be ordered this week.
"If it can be done, we'll do it," she added.