ESSEX — A seed of an idea that started as an anonymous Instagram account for artists and craftspeople from around the state has blossomed into a collaborative enterprise called the Makers of Maryland. The person behind the idea and the Instagram profile, Stephanie Persichitti, of Essex, has set up a pop-up shop for local vendors to sell their products in an old Pier 1 Imports building on the Avenue at White Marsh that will remain open until the end of the calendar year.
“It has not yet sunk in that I have done this,” she said. “It is like a dream come true.”
Inside the 10,000-square foot store, 56 Maryland-based arts and crafts vendors made up of woodworkers, jewelry makers and photographers occupy the space and earn thousands of dollars a month on their products. Persichitti even sells her own scented candles, which she started making during quarantine last year.
In 2018, Persichitti informally made an anonymous Instagram account called “Makers of Maryland” and followed fellow artists from the area and created posts to engage an audience. She had previously joined an Internet group chat with other craftspeople, and she had decided that the group needed a better outlet to market their products.
She had wanted to see if the account would be successful before telling others it was her. She had no idea the success that would be as monumental as it is today.
Persichitti hit her big break after a Pier 1 Imports store shuttered on the Avenue at White Marsh in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A representative from the Avenue’s leasing company, Federal Realty Investment Trust, was familiar with “Makers of Maryland” and spoke with Persichitti about filling the storefront with a pop-up shop.
Persichitti had worked with the same company in 2019 to fill an empty retail space on the same promenade, but it was only 1,200 square feet with 20 vendors and lasted from Nov. 2 to Christmas Eve.
When Persichitti first saw the empty store space, she was not sure she would be able to fill it with enough vendors.
“I was thinking, ‘Have you lost your mind? There is no way I can fill this space,’” she said. “But everything organically happened, and here we are.”
Although she said she was not too interested in running another pop-up shop, when she received this offer, it was like a “sign from the universe.”
For Persichitti’s first shop, the leasing representative emailed her after seeing her Instagram account and asked if she would like to open a pop-up shop in November.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what that is, but yes,’” she said.
In 2020, she was asked by the company to organize five festivals with vendors in pop-up tents, and then she had to cancel due to COVID-19. In February of this year, she found a second wind and reached out to the company about options to market “Makers of Maryland,” and the representative told her about the Pier 1 Imports space.
Fortunately, she said, several vendors returned from the previous shop. But she also received a large number of vendor applications, so many, in fact, that she had the opportunity to select the type of vendor booths she wanted in the store.
“The universe gave me people that aligned with me and my vision,” she said.
During opening day, the new store made more money than the previous store did in the entire length of time it was open; not to mention the line for the store was out the door.
Each vendor pays rent for a retail space in the store and is required to work at least five shifts over four months, and 8% of all profits are reinvested into the store for the equipment and supplies.
In April, she started building out the store, placing vendors in different spaces “with no rhyme or reason as to why,” and asking them to set up their own spaces how they want, she said.
“My motto is, ‘Do whatever you want,’” she said.
In order to open, however, she also needed supplies, and with permission from the leasing company, she ransacked a recently shuttered A.C. Moore store on the promenade.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said. “I made a lot of to-do lists and reached out to people I trusted, and after only a month, we opened.”
Next, Persichitti has her eyes set on Philadelphia, where she expects to open another pop up shop at a shuttered empty store in 2022 under the name “Makers of Pennsylvania.” She has negotiated a lease with the same company and created another Instagram account to promote the business and arts and crafts vendors from the area.
She eventually wants to open other shops in Boston and in Richmond.
“My ultimate goal is to teach others to run them,” she said. “I will just fulfill the facilitator role, call the shops ‘Makers of whatever’ and own the LLC.”