By Kathleen Bolus The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) One Pennsylvania entrepreneur is marking memories with her unique online business that turns maps into homemade personalized gifts.
Onto part of a piece of wood shaped into the letter "M," Lisa Malsberger printed the topography of Jessup.
Then, she seamlessly added Philadelphia to the letter -- a sort of wooden map collage -- before transitioning the map of the city of Brotherly Love into Kutztown University, then Baltimore and finally, Honolulu.
The letter map sign traces a friend's different homes throughout her life. It's a new personalized project called Maps and Memories.
"She just called me... bawling her eyes out," Ms. Malsberger said recently of the friend who received the unique gift. "It's a beautiful piece of art to just sit there."
Ms. Malsberger is the creator of Tig & Cooneys, a unique and local Etsy shop and vendor at local craft fairs that turns maps into homemade personalized gifts. Working out of a small room in her Olyphant home, she creates, among other gifts, her staple item -- stone coasters with colorful maps of various places, including Waverly, Scranton, Key West, Florida and Avalon, New Jersey.
"A map is kind of like literally showing you, a place in time, maybe where you lived and it's also the memory of the place," she said, "it's a figurative and literal sense of something."
Ms. Malsberger started using maps as homemade gifts when another friend moved to Texas; she wanted to give her something to remind her of home.
"I just expanded from coasters but staying with the maps," she said. With maps "your target market is anybody... you could have a little kid that loves maps, you can have an older person who loves looking at maps, it's not gender specific, it's not age specific."
Ms. Malsberger opened her Etsy shop in June 2013. Friends and family purchased from the online store at first but, after a recommendation, she began making coasters with very small shore points on them. People searching for gifts from those places, including Manasquan, New Jersey, would buy from Ms. Malsberger's shop.
Back in her workshop, Ms. Malsberger, an adjunct professor at Johnson College, prints out paid topographic vintage maps -- vintage because they're dated before 1980, the 32-year-old said.
It's a 10-step process to apply the map to the coaster. The map is printed out, stuck to the stone, the bubbles smoothed out and coats of glossy polyurethane are applied to seal and waterproof the map to the stone. The coasters are corked at the bottom, packaged into sets of four and tied together with twine.
The maps are screen printed onto cloth -- which she purchases from local stores -- and letters. She was screen printing from her basement but since demand has increased, Ms. Malsberger works with Ron Augelli of Augelli Printing LLC in Blakely.
Her coasters, "mapkins," letter signs, posters with vintage maps and mottos, paperweights, ornaments and other map items have been given as birthday, wedding, showers and retirement gifts.
She also takes Tig & Cooney's on the road, participating in many of the local vendor fairs in the Scranton area.
A large bulk of her business comes from ScrantonMade festivals, Arts and the Square and Holiday Marketplace.
"I really love to meet people at our local events and see what they like about our products..." she said. "More than anything I love hearing those personal stories and how these custom, handmade gifts are really sentimental to so many people."
"We're embracing... marketplaces," said Lisa Hall-Zielinski, director of the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center. "The community really loves that... it's really taken off as a great option to really connect to costumers."
The local vendors fairs and marketplaces are a great option for small business owners that allow them to "test the market and get a feel for it," she said.
A graduate of Valley View High School, Ms. Malsberger has always been creative.
"My dream was to always do what I'm doing right now," she said. "Since I was a little kid I've always made arts and crafts."
In 10 years, Ms. Malsberger, also a Penn State graduate with a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's from Bloomsburg University in business education, would like to have her own brick-and-mortar store, but until then she's selling her gifts at locally owned shops both near and far. She sells her map coasters at Lavish Body and Home in Scranton.
"Having a business is a risky thing," she said. Etsy allows her to track her online and in-person purchases and also provides her all the necessary information during tax season at no cost.
"There's so many hats to wear as an entrepreneur," said Ms. Zelinski. "To have those kinds of services that does multiple things at once is fantastic."
For now, Ms. Malsberger is happy selling online and at the ever-expanding local fairs that allow her to expose her work to the community.
"Shopping local gives you that certain feeling," she said. "It's a handmade gift... it's not about the coaster, it's about the feeling that you get ... the memory that you have."