Area Entrepreneurs Create Online Craft Site

By Emily Pyrek
La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Forever Local” offers area artisans, who pay a monthly fee for the service, an arena to market their items. The website’s founder, Kristel Keys Running, buys wholesale and then sells the items for retail, shipping the goods from her Wisconsin basement headquarters.

La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

When Kristel Keys Running opened her package from Etsy last spring, she didn’t expect to see a “Made in China” tag.

“I purchased what I thought was a handmade romper for my daughter,” Running said.

“I was disappointed to learn some of their items aren’t made in the USA. I like to know where my money is going and I try to avoid buying from big corporations, but I can’t always go to these local shops with three kids –they have breakable things or we can’t all leave the house.”

Looking to reconcile her preference for online shopping with her commitment to buying local, the stay-at-home mom of three spent months conducting marketing research before debuting her online handicraft site, “Forever Local,” on Dec. 9.

The site offers area artisans, who pay a monthly fee for the service, an arena to market their items, which Running buys wholesale and then sells for retail, shipping the goods from her basement headquarters.

“We’re promoting local makers and the local economy,” Running said.

Forever Local currently features products from six artists in La Crosse, Onalaska and Viroqua, who offer jewelry, wood crafts, stuffed animals, tutus and alpaca-fiber accessories, with several items sold within days of the site going live.

Sherrie Bryant, who makes painted glass pendants and beaded jewelry under the brand “Belles, Bracelets and Baubles,” in her basement studio, joined Forever Local after seeing a Facebook post from Running seeking makers for the site. The online platform intrigued Bryant, who was burned out from selling at fairs and craft shows.

“It can be exhausting, setting up the tables and bringing everything (back and forth),” said Bryant, who also has items available in a few craft shops. “I was curious about selling online and this seemed like another opportunity to get my work out there and keep the money in the community.”

Bryant believes she is the only local artist to work with alcohol ink on glass, which she combines with a “secret ingredient” to create her one-of-a-kind, shimmery, celestial pieces.

“I appreciate things that are different,” Bryant said. “People tell me they can see images in (the pendants) — a person, a dragon. I never want to duplicate anything.”

Fellow Forever Local seller Brenda Bentzler shares Bryant’s dedication to unique, well made products, with an additional focus on sustainability. Bentzler, owner of Americana Suri Alpacas in Viroqua, knits scarves, hats and accessories using Alpaca fiber humanely sheared from her herd. The fiber is known for its durability, softness and and moisture repellent quality.

“It’s very luxurious — the yarn speaks for itself,” Bentzler said. “I’m very proud I can make products using my own fiber, and I know how the animals that it’s coming from are treated –I can’t stress enough how important my animals are to me. I think it’s very important not just to buy local but to support local farmers.”

Bentzler, who was approached by Running to be a seller, was happy to pass on the sales role, preferring to stick to the handiwork, and says she has been pleasantly surprised by the interest in her products, a top seller on the site. The early success has been exciting for Running as well.

“The feedback has been this is a really cool concept,” Running said. “My whole goal is to connect consumers with makers in a way that’s easy.”

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