Fox is one of four business partners—along with Kit Flynn, Todd, and Jessica Russell—who own and operate the one-and-a-half year old shop on 656 Congress Street in Portland. The store provides an ample selection of artwork from local Maine artists to sell their work. “We provide a storefront that’s open six days a week for artists that normally wouldn’t be able to maintain or start a store on their own…we’re like a year-round craft fair, like a year-round Picnic [an annual craft festival in Portland].”
From renown boutique vendors to MECA art students, The Merchant Company provides a platform to support the artistic endeavors of both veteran and rookie artists in Portland’s thriving scene. Said Fox, “Although the store appears to be really packed at all times, we’re always encouraging artists to come in and inquire [about selling their work]. We have a lot of shoppers that are regulars that live in town, that walk by, that pop in, so we like to keep the store fresh.”
For newcomers, the store offers a consignment-style selling plan. It’s a perfect way to test the selling success of their merchandise with practically no risk. “A lot of the artists in the store are new to selling their merchandise, so there’s a big learning curve; trying to figure out what is a good price point for your merchandise and how it compares to similar merchandise in the store,” said Fox of the store’s unique vending plan. “Usually consignment is good because you’re not losing money paying for a rental space. You’re just able to feel out, as an artist, what direction you need to take, things like how to display your work or your branding, your tags…every small detail you’re able to work out without cost to yourself.”
As far as the selection process goes, Fox expressed that all the owners have different tastes, the reason for the store’s thoroughly eclectic selection. Said Fox of the collection, “There’s a lot of diversity; but the general public is diverse, so it’s about having something for everyone.” And despite different tastes, the pieces find commonality in three key criteria: they must be quality, hand made or selected (there are also four vintage lines), and the artists must be local–that is, from Maine. This is certainly good news for artists, but also for shoppers: the store’s merchandise is original, incredibly affordable, and it all supports creative endeavors from our state.
Staying in step with local loyalty, The Merchant Company actively works to enhance the sense of community, becoming thoroughly involved within Maine’s art scene–and in less than two years, they have already begun to make their mark. They have collaborated with Yes Art Works, an organization that provides creative opportunities for handicapped and disabled artists (whose pieces are continuously carried in-store), and they’ve done work with Maine College of Art, its campus just steps away from the store front. They’ve been featured in the prestigious pages of Maine Home + Design. More intimately, The Merchant Company hosts quarterly potlucks for their store vendors. Fox excitedly told of the vending artists being able to meet, socialize, and in some cases, begin to collaborate as a result of these potlucks, “which is super rad!” she gushed.
The Merchant Company is unique among the vast art scene in Portland because it offers something that no other Portland boutique does: the opportunity for locals to buy and sell original work, from any level of expertise. Said Fox of the store, “It exposes our community–and Portland, in general–to buying local and staying local with handmade, upcycled, quality items.”