The first thing J.D. Grove does for everyone who walks into her new boutique, Conspire: Contemporary Craft, is point them toward the snacks.
Conspire, which opened on Saturday, is Grove’s attempt to “reconnect customers with makers,” according to the boutique’s press release.
“I’m focusing on local, handmade art,” Grove added on the day of the opening. “For me, it’s about changing people’s buying habits and supporting artists in the community and the way we shop and what we buy.”
Though what the store hopes to accomplish is metaphorically large, physically, it’s a tiny space: it can’t be more than 15 by 15 feet, and local art is packed into every corner, so that a backpack would probably be an unwelcome companion. Pointing customers toward the snacks is a crafty move—maybe even craftier than Grove realizes—since to get to the platter of hummus and cheese in the back of the shop, you’ve got to pass at least half the art on your way.
“The first thing I thought was: they’re going to need more room,” said Debbie Beck, a Greencastle resident and visitor to the shop.
But for such a small space, it takes half an hour to truly examine and learn about the many different types of art and artists.
“I think that I personally know every artist I carry in this shop,” Grove said.
Considering the fact that everything she carries is handmade and crafted locally, the range of products seems extreme. There are essential oils and candles, toys, jewelry, pillows and pottery, to name just a few. And as she walks around the store, taking her time to showcase each artist’s work, the connection Grove has with these pieces and those who made them is clear.
“They’re such awesome, creative people," she said. "I love working with them.”
She seems to know more than just the basics about each artist she mentions while pointing out their work. There’s Bohemian Hobbit Studios, who carve naturalist designs into Brown County Sandstone. Please Bike creates earrings from inner tubes, though they somehow end up looking just like feathers. The two men who started the Onyx Exchange pour soy candles with essential oils into recycled wine bottles.
“These things have a lower environmental footprint from the get-go,” Grove said. “They’re also made here, so they’re not being shipped all over the place. A lot of these things are made out of things we’ve already recycled or things that are natural to our area.”
As she picked up a brown mug with a thin white swirl working its way throughout and a skull painted lightly on top, she talked seriously about the importance of having handmade goods in a home.
“This is what we use for cups. Every time I use one of these cups I think about [the artist] doing all of this by hand, and it’s like being close to the person,” she said.
She went on to discuss the importance of choosing local, handmade art over other, perhaps less expensive options.
“Why get a bunch of mugs at Wal-Mart when you could have a few nice cups that somebody made by hand?”
Grove met most of the artists, whose work has found a home at Conspire, while traveling to arts and crafts shows on the weekends. These shows might be as nearby as Bloomington or as far off as St. Louis. She herself is the owner of an apothecary business, Teehaus Bath & Body. Her line consists of all-natural oil soaps, lotions and facial care.
“I have an online shop and I’m on Etsy, but other than that I was pretty much just at shows on the weekend,” she said of how she sold her products before Conspire. “That’s pretty much the case for everyone here.”
With Conspire, however, people from Greencastle and the surrounding area have a consistent place to find local artists, and the artists themselves have a physical home base for their goods to be purchased.
“These people are living, working artists,” Grove said. “They’re full time artists, and this is how people are going to support them and that really makes a difference in small towns.”
DePauw graduates-turned-Greencastle residents Andrew Smith ’11 and Vince Aguirre ’12 are more than a bit pleased that a shop like Conspire has found its way onto the square.
“I saw information about the opening on Facebook,” Aguirre said about what brought him to the boutique on its opening day. “I try to tap into what small businesses are opening up and get involved and get to know the owners.”
Smith also heard about the event through Facebook, and decided to tag along when Aguirre said he was going. After looking through what Conspire had to offer, Smith was very excited.
“This is a really cool store for me,” he said. “I have eczema, dry skin, and places like this that are natural are great. I took some samples, and I’ll probably come back here for some soaps. I’ve already asked her if she could order something for me.”
Though Aguirre didn’t mention any personal reasons for excitement about Conspire’s opening, he did speak on how the shop in general was a great addition to Greencastle’s downtown.
“It fills a unique niche that brings a lot to the town, especially to the downtown area.”
After suggesting that the store might need a little more space, Beck was also ready to pour on the praise.
“I was really excited to see a new venue for arts and crafts,” she said.
Aside from the downstairs boutique area, Conspire will also house the Black Cat Gallery, where local artists will be showcased upstairs. The first gallery show will take place in mid-March, and will present Indianapolis artist Cheryl Lorrance. Artists will rotate out every three months, and while the gallery itself is free and open to viewing, prints, postcards and the artists’ work itself will be on sale.
“I’ll have little opening receptions,” Grove added. “Hopefully some white wine.”
Everything in Conspire will be sold at a five percent discount to DePauw students, faculty and staff with a DePauw ID card. An online store, the Conspire Online Boutique will go live on March 15 at www.conspireindiana.com.
Grove is hopeful that her boutique will help fill a hole in the community, and that people will recognize and appreciate what Conspire offers.
“I wanted there to be a venue for quality, handmade crafts," she said. "I hope people come in.”