At FLAIR, holiday shopping ‘pops’

  • Nick Behrens, of Behrens Boards, co-runs Flair, with Cristine Levitre, a pop up shop on Center Street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Behrens, of Behrens Boards, co-runs Flair, with Cristine Levitre, a pop-up shop on Center Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jewelry made by Cristine Levitre at Flair, a pop up shop on Center street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Items made by Lois barber of Amherst, being sold at Flair, a pop up shop run by Nick Behrens, of and Cristine Levitre. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Behrens, of Behrens Boards, co-runs Flair, with Cristine Levitre, a pop up shop on Center Street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A cutting board made by Nick Behrens at Flair, a pop up shop on Center street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rebecca Mazur shops at Flair, a pop up shop on Center Street in Northampton run by Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Glass ornaments made by Tucker Litchfield at Flair, a pop up shop on Center street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rebecca Mazur shops at Flair, a pop up shop on Center Street in Northampton run by Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rebecca Mazur shops at Flair, a pop-up shop on Center Street in Northampton run by Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Behrens helps Rebecca Mazur at Flair, a pop up shop on Center Street in Northampton run by Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Flair, a pop-up shop on Center Street in Northampton run by Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre. Bottom left, glass ornaments made by Tucker Litchfield. Bottom right, items made by Lois Barber of Amherst. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2018 11:45:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At first glance, Nick Behrens and Cristine Levitre say they may appear to be an unlikely duo; Behrens is 25, and Levitre is over 60.

But together, the business partners are looking to revolutionize how artists and makers interact with their local markets through a new pop-up shop model.

Levitre and Behrens’ model for Flair Holiday Market, located at 18 Center St., aims to put money and power back in the hands of makers.

“People who are self-employed… they never stop working to generate a viable income,” Levitre said.

Their solution? Personalize relationships with vendors, eliminate the middleman and give 80 percent of profit back to artists.

The shop, which opened Nov. 15 and will remain in place throughout the holiday season, features handmade goods from about 30 different vendors, all but two of whom are local to Hampshire, Franklin, Hampden and Berkshire counties.

Prices range from below $10 to about $1,000, and the inventory includes a range of goods such as jewelry, paintings, pottery, honey, spices and glasswork.

Behrens and Levitre met in March at the Whitingham Maple Festival in Vermont, where they were randomly assigned booths next to each other. Behrens, who runs the handcrafted wooden kitchen board business Behrens Boards with his brother, and Levitre, a metalsmith and jeweler, quickly began to connect over their shared ideas.

“Cristine and I just kind of hit it off talking about business, different experiences we had and everything,” Behrens said, “just kind of sharing what had worked in the past, what our plans were for the upcoming year.”

Levitre went on to tell Behrens about a pop-up shop that she had established in 2016 at Thornes Marketplace in Northampton. While Levitre said that the pop-up shop was an overall success, she knew that the model needed improvement.

“We were wildly successful economically, really quickly,” Levitre said. “But it was 12 strangers who I got together really almost overnight, and so what I took away from it was you can’t make a cooperative overnight, and that the economics of having a shop in Thornes or Northampton, especially Thornes, were highly positive.”

The two kept in touch via email and phone over the spring, and began to look for possible shop locations in the summer. They aimed for Main Street, but eventually ended up on the adjacent Center Street.

When creating the new pop-up shop, Levitre and Behrens also wanted to address the difficulties faced by many self-employed artists and makers. When artists receive back smaller shares of profit, such as 50 percent, they are forced to sell their products at a higher cost, which can create financial barriers for buyers.

“Everybody loses that way,” Levitre said.

To create an improved model, Behrens and Levitre say that they were both willing to sacrifice personal profit.

“We’re not trying to have this store be a highly profitable thing,” Behrens said. “We’re trying to have all of the money just flow back to the people who make stuff, because that’s just what I believe in.”

“They deserve more than they are getting right now,” he continued, “and lots of them are being forced to be high volume producers and (instead of) a natural way of creating, because they’re financially struggling.”

But even with the 80/20 percent split between makers and Flair, putting money into makers’ pockets has come with greater challenges than anticipated, which Levitre attributes mainly to the shop’s location and struggles with publicity.

“When people come in, they’re interested and they buy, but not being on Main Street has been the biggest deterrent,” Levitre said.

“Even if you’re 40 feet from Main Street, you’re invisible,” she added.

The goal was for every maker to earn $5,000, she said, but they’re “nowhere near that.”

Levitre and Behrens sometimes hand out postcards advertising the shop on Main Street, which she said leads to a dramatic increase in customers, but Levitre added that they are “struggling mightily” when no one is available to distribute the postcards.

But this lack of marketing resources was also one of the ways that Levitre and Behrens were able to give 80 percent of profit back to makers, creating a dilemma.

Despite these difficulties, Levitre and Behrens say that the model continues to attract vendors. While they initially planned to feature the works of four to six vendors, both makers added artists from their own networks.

“It kind of just snowballed one artist at a time, and before we knew it we had a really diverse group of makers and artists and were up over 20,” Behrens said.

Creating an atmosphere or unity among makers and personalizing relationships with these individual vendors is also a vital aspect of the business model, Levitre said.

“Bringing people in and giving them the (maker’s) story so that they feel connected to the person who actually did the making I think is really important,” she added.

“We have a really human relationship with all of the people we have working here… you just don’t really find that in a more traditional store,” Behrens agreed, “and it just kind of makes it more of a human experience when you’re shopping in an atmosphere like this.”

Behrens and Levitre said that they hope to keep the shop open daily from around 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy