By Kim Lyons Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Over the past few years, Butler Street in Lawrenceville has become one of the hottest retail corridors in the city.
But when entrepreneur Rebecca Morris opened WildCard gift shop five years ago, she was something of a pioneer, even though her choice of location was partly one of convenience.
"I moved to Lawrenceville in 2003 and bought a house because I really liked the neighborhood," she said.
WildCard was one of the earliest tenants of the 16:62 Design Zone, an interior design district stretching from the 16th Street Bridge to 62nd Street. "There were a few businesses there, like Coca Cafe, and a stained glass studio, really focused on art and design. At the time it was a little easier to get into retail there, and I felt like we fit in well in the neighborhood."
The shop features a variety of handmade, one-of-a-kind goods, from Godzilla-themed Hanukkah cards and "Raise the Jolly Roger" T-shirts to hand-painted and hand-crocheted items. It's like a one-stop craft fair, which has been part of Ms. Morris' plan all along.
"I had been going to different independent craft fairs in and out of town, but some of them are quarterly and some of them are only once a year," she said. "I thought it would be really cool to have a place where vendors could have a collection of their stuff."
Ms. Morris grew up in Shaler and has a background in graphic design. She moved to Chicago for a few years, keeping the Lawrenceville house and renting it to a friend, and worked at a craft store in the Windy City with the intention of returning to Pittsburgh and opening her own shop.
She returned to Pittsburgh in 2008, with a plan for a store that involved craft supplies.
But she quickly adapted her business plan and has made necessary changes along the way as the business has evolved. She used to have more consignment sales, for example, but now purchases items outright from artists.
"Some people don't know the process because they've never sold to a store before, but I'm happy to work with them to help them figure out the first steps," she said.
That willingness to work with local artists is part of the reason WildCard has been successful, even in such a volatile economy, Ms. Morris' fans say.
"She's a great booster for the neighborhood," said artist Matthew Buchholz of Alternate Histories, whose sci-fi themed art was first featured at a 2010 show at WildCard.
Nick Caruso of Make Believe makes Pittsburgh-themed T-shirts, and said WildCard helped him get his start and elevated his visibility.
"Rebecca is like the den mother for all the makers here in Pittsburgh," Mr. Caruso said. "She's given so many of us a home at WildCard. She and her staff have got a terrific eye and always feature the coolest things."
Ms. Morris said when she opened WildCard, she assumed she would do everything herself, and would hold off on hiring for a while.
That was her first surprise as a small business owner.
"I opened in October, and by November I had to hire someone to help me," she recalled with a chuckle. "I was trying to do things like work on taxes and order product and work with vendors and help customers."
WildCard now has four employees, she said.
On Saturday, Ms. Morris will host a happy hour at WildCard from 5 to 7 p.m. with local vendors and artists, and will answer questions about selling artwork and running a small business.
She's also planning to launch WildCard's online store Saturday.
Ms. Morris said she is considering opening a shop in another part of the city. "Maybe something a little smaller, just cards or T-shirts, but I haven't fully explored that yet," she said.
But her current neighbors are happy to have the original WildCard.
Lauren Byrne of Lawrenceville United said the community organization feels "incredibly lucky" to have Ms. Morris, because she focuses not only on the success of her own business but on her the success of her peers as well.
"WildCard was one of the first cool shops, and she wanted to make sure it was neighborhood-serving," Ms. Byrne said. "But it also became a destination for visitors outside of Lawrenceville, because you can't find what you can find there anywhere else in the city.
"It's become a hub, a central piece of the neighborhood fabric."
On the Web: wildcardpgh.com.