The following is an interview with Lillian Potter-Saum, the owner The Local Source, located at 133 West German Street in Shepherdstown, WV. She features products from local artists and crafters in the community. This shop is unique in its own right.
How long has The Local Source been open?
The Local Source has been in existence for five years. It was on princess street for a year and a half and getting people to turn the corner down there is like pulling teeth.
How has this location helped the business?
I took it over in the April of 2012 and September of 2012 a spot became available. It grows incremental, little bits by little bits, but that is the way a new business is. The business has been in “the black” since the beginning, so that is a good thing. The model works.
What is the Local Source as a business?
My tagline is “we are the source for your locally made products.” I have always been an advocate for taking care of your neighbors and your own backyard. There is a ripple effect; this community is rich in crafters, artists, and people who create.
Can you explain to me what the business model is?
I do a lot of consignment, and it helps with keeping my overhead low by paying out after [an item] sells, instead of making a large inventory purchase.
There are a lot of people that craft and make on a very small scale; even one or two things at a time. It helps those people have an outlet for their creativity. Sometimes you just have to get it out of you. They can bring it in here; I don’t care if it is one, two, or 50. I will sell it for them, and we both profit from that. The crafter sets the price. I think it also helps that I do not ship.
When we say local, outside of my fair trade because I do carry an amount of fair trade products, within 50 miles with the vast majority within 20 miles. I have well over 100 vendors. They come and go. People create for a little while then they have a baby or a life event and stop for a while. They know that they can always come back. A lot of businesses purchase out right, and they want volume. I don’t worry about that.
I also do not jury things. I feel like if I might hate it, the person who created it might love it, and somebody else will too. It’s funny because my husband will look at something and go, “Really?” I will tell him “They created it. They love it. Somebody else will love it too.” I like being a buffer between the customer and the artist. The critiques can be painful, and shoppers are critical.
I try to keep competition to a minimum. I have five different jewelers in here right now, that’s kind of a lot. I have three wood workers, two knitters, three people who sew and a potter. I probably would not take any more jewelers unless someone went away – and that happens. Sometimes crafters come in here and actually see their stuff is selling, and they take it upon themselves to start an Etsy shop or the craft show circuit. They are going to make more money that way, and more power to them. I get that.
What do you think is the importance of having a shop like this in the community?
Everything in here is so unique. It adds to the shopping experience of a tourist. People will come in during gift time, and I often find that this is the first place people come to find “that gift,” and that makes me feel good.
The items are full of personality.
I would agree with that. I also sell foodstuff and what I like to call “lotions and potions.” Soaps, lotions, face creams – all locally made. Those items bring people back continuously. That helps keep my inventory fresh and people coming back in to see what is new – because there is always something new in here.
Is there anything you wish was more available?
I am constantly looking for men’s things.
What do you mean by “men’s things?”
Shaving lotion, men’s jewelry, something as simple as a belt or a belt buckle. Right now, I have these wooden ties. I would love to have locally made, handcrafted knives. There are other places in town that specialize in U.S. made [products] or finely crafted food, but they are not necessarily local.
To have that local component…
…Makes a difference.
Often when we look at a central business district or the people selling things, we have corporate interests coming in, and they compete with and affect the local market.
My biggest competitor is probably Amazon.
Because people can find it cheaper, but that thing is going to be made in China. The environmental impact of something being made there and shipped here blows my mind. People who want me to grow my business say I should ship, but I will not. I do not want to add to [the environmental impact]. I do not sell online because everything is so unique, and most of my vendors already sell online. The only thing really unique is this shirt.
I was talking to an acquaintance who is a graphic designer and asked her to create a logo that is young, fun, funky, uniquely Shepherdstown, and only sell it in my shop. We have been doing that for four years now. This, I could probably sell online. I have bought and sold on eBay for about ten years at one point in my life. The older I get the more cohesive and simple I would like my life. To be local is simpler.
People here can purchase their products [at the local source] that support this community and help with the tax base.
And that is the way it has always been. It’s probably only been since the 1930’s to 1950’s that corporate conglomerations have become the norm versus maintaining your local community and shopping in your community; taking care of your neighbor.
It sounds like you are making big strides to connect your neighbors.
I hope it is big! I do my little bit.
And your little bit matters because it is inspiring for other people to know that they can make it as a small business and that your business can collaborate with others.
So far, so good. They say five years for a business to make or break, and this is the beginning of my fifth year.
I had a young girl who was making scarves to raise money for a missionary or high school trip. I sold a number of her scarves for her. It goes the gamut from the teenagers to the retiree.
You are very inclusive. Can anybody can come in and talk to you about your services?
Yes, and I get people coming from Winchester and Hagerstown. I tell them, “I’ll take your product. I’m not going to ship. You’ll have to work it into your routine, but understand that if someone comes into my shop who’s more local, I am probably going to kick your product and take the more local person.”
That makes sense as a part of your mission to keep things as local as you can. Is there anything you want the community to know about your shop?
I take recycling. All my bags are old grocery bags. I take egg cartons for a local farmer and also berry baskets. I take corks. A lot of crafters use the corks, and if I have a plethora, they go to a company called ReCORK that use them in shoes, furniture and flooring. I am a proponent of cork because it is reusable, recyclable and does not kill the tree [when harvested].
I am happy to find unique and supportive businesses like The Local Source in our area. Supporting artists, crafters, and local producers is important, and the ability to find their products can be a sign of a healthy community. Do you know anyone who is an artist or crafter who is looking for a way to share his or her products? Share this article or connect with The Local Source on Facebook.
Take a look inside The Local Source:
(Photo Credits: Nicholas Trietsch)