Erin of the shop Amelia in Mississippi has a series on her instagram called Shop Stories where she features other shops around the country. Gather is the featured shop this week. Check it out on instagram and see my “story” here:
My name is Michelle Smith and I own Gather, a hybrid gift shop & coffee shop that also serves as a coworking space and a classroom in downtown Cary, NC. Each facet organically feeds into the other. The shop features goods from emerging makers around the country, the majority of which come from North Carolina. I am very passionate about this type of entrepreneur and prior to Gather I founded an event called The Rock & Shop Market which I hosted for ten years and featured 100 juried makers per event alongside, bands, beer and food trucks. Gather felt like the natural next step in progressing the needs of both my local community and maker entrepreneurs by giving them a platform to sell their wares, a place to work out of, network and teach their skills.
As a shop owner and entrepreneur I wear many hats. I have a small team of part-time employees who help me at Gather while I am going full-speed ahead to make the space successful. A few of my day to day tasks include paying bills, selecting goods for the shop, marketing and coordinating events, tagging items and adding them to inventory, merchandising the space, photographing and updating for social media and sometimes making coffee behind the register.
In addition to Gather I have my own product line which I’ve run for the past ten years as well, and I work professionally as a photographer and food and prop stylist. See what I mean about wearing many hats? I’m also a mom to a 7-year old and my husband, a scientist by day, makes peppermint bark at night with his business The Apothecary’s Kitchen. Keeping all of this going while also maintaining balance in my personal life is something I work equally as hard at, and I think key to doing this kind of work without burning out and staying healthy.
I really love food and helping to foster community, and I think the two are closely related so having a coffee and teashop within the space is a natural fit. We also have a variety of local chocolates for sale too. Gather is located in a sleepy downtown in the middle of an otherwise thriving region in North Carolina called the Triangle. Creating a space for the residents of this particular pocket to literally “gather” is an important piece of what the space is. And when people who live in other parts of the Triangle take the time to drive to the shop it becomes even more of a special destination: a quiet retreat that you’ve discovered and can pore over and bring a friend to that feels like you are stepping away from your normal routine but still just a short drive away.
I grew up in a small downtown filled with antique stores and beautiful historic storefronts that were underutilized. When I was a teenager I used to imagine the type of shop I would open in one of those spaces. I would always imagine a gift shop filled with plants, a space that was also my studio. I imagined it filled with books, with coffee and tea and hosting musical performances. What’s funny is that I never really saw how all those pieces would fit together cohesively and I had even shelved the idea of opening up a shop at all, after multiple earnest but never quite-right earlier attempts toward that goal. And yet here I am running this type of space in a sleepy downtown similar to the one I grew up in.
Through hosting my Rock & Shop Market events for the past ten years I’ve come to develop a deep understanding and relationship with the maker entrepreneurs in this community (over 1000 different makers have participated in those events) and have helped to cultivate a culture and shop space where these makers are hopefully able to grow & succeed as business owners. I feel like maker entrepreneurs have a different set of needs and should have access to resources that benefit them specifically, and though this a thriving movement happening right now, those resources aren’t always easy to find in person. My goal is to help facilitate that at Gather both organically through the shop but also through the classes we offer and informal mentoring.
At the end of the day I am just a micro-business owner too and have to pull myself up by my bootstraps and find creative ways to fund the space and try to make it beautiful at the same time. I’m on a scrappy DIY budget and take things one-step at a time hopefully evolving and improving each day to make an awesome experience for my customers. These shelves were built by my husband and I about six months ago and allowed me to double the merchandise in the shop. I had the idea for them in my head long before I was able to implement them. It’s really gratifying to watch my ideas unfold over time and evolve and get refined through use, instead of being perfect all at once.