So I spent October 5-11 selling my art in a pop-up shop at the Westfield Mall in Vancouver, WA.
Yes, you heard that right. I sold my art made of hides and bones and my books about nature spirituality in a mall. So how did it go? Read on.
First of all, the Westfield Vancouver isn’t your usual mall. Instead of a bookstore they have a branch of the county library. They have a ton of activities for kids, rather than just a couple sad coin-operated cars monitored by a bored-looking teenager. And they actively recruit artists to sell their work for limited periods of time in their foyers and kiosks. The coordinator of this particular program headhunted me at a local art event I was vending at, said she loved my work and wanted to invite me to try the mall for a week. A bit incongruous, to be sure, but after months of festivals and faires, I was up for a bit of a venue change.
I do have to say the vending staff are some of the nicest people I’ve met, easy to work with, quick to respond to correspondence, and they were even willing to work directly with my insurance agent to make sure I had the correct level of coverage, since they asked for a couple of changes not on my usual business policy. I got a full tour of the mall, to include a good look at the in-house set dressing they have (including all those tables and the hat tree in the pictures of my booth). So I was pretty positive when I got done with all the paperwork.
Setup on Sunday night was easier than I had feared. I was setting up solo since my usual help was occupied that weekend. And the booth was near one of only two doors that stay unlocked after the mall closes but before the theater is done for the night (there’s 24 hour security). So I didn’t have too far to haul things, and since I wasn’t using gridwall there was less crap to schlep back and forth from the car. (No, seriously–we have a LOT of gridwall and accessories in our usual setup.)
Since I was working with less space than my usual grid-lined 10 x 10 booth, I had to be selective in what I brought with me. I tailored my stock away from the more overtly unusual things like headdresses, and emphasized jewelry and assemblage art more. This worked pretty well; people did tend to give more attention to the less furry, more shiny things. Well, okay, let me clarify: they looked at the more fur and bone creations with curiosity or “Oooooh, how weirrrrrrd!” responses, but sales tended to be mostly tamer things.
The retail week pattern was pretty typical–slow during the week, picking up more toward the weekend, and Saturday being by far the best day sales-wise. As is usual, a lot of people simply stopped by to take a look; I went through a lot of business cards, especially as some folks wouldn’t get paid til after my week was up. It was a pretty low income to investment ratio compared to my usual venues, but at least I had fun and pretty much paid my expenses for the week.
I am always a little nervous vending in a more mainstream venue. I’m more likely to run into people screaming at me about “Poor dead animals!” or fundamentalist Christians taking issue with my books on that evil, evil paganism than at my usual round of alt events. Surprisingly, I only got two of the former (and they did less screaming and more running away), and none of the latter.
Regardless of venue, we tend to get repeats of the same jokes that stopped being funny after the first time. I am pleased to say that during the entire week only twice did someone look at the various fox tails and such in the booth and say “What does the fox say?” which means only twice did I have to give my stock response “The price goes up five bucks every time we hear ‘ding’.” (If we enforced that literally someone sang the entire song once while looking at my art, I could ostensibly add $75 to their bill. Maybe it’d be worth it after all….)
Shoplifting is a reality in any large group setting. People were pretty well-behaved with few exceptions. However, I’m seriously irked that someone ran off with one of my tapestries that I use to cover the tables. They took one I’ve had for over a decade! Grrrrrr.
So would I recommend this to other artists? Yes–with conditions. If you make more niche/nerdy work, like my hide and bone art, I’d recommend passing this by, since this really isn’t a crowd for more unusual wares, even with the existence of Hot Topic and Spencers in the same mall. A lot of my business came from existing customers who came by specifically to see me and my work. Also, if your work tends toward canvases and other fine art, it may be a tough crowd for you. However, if you have something more crafty and mainstream-friendly, like clothing, jewelry, candles, knitted scarves and the like, give it a shot!
I couldn’t find any online brochures for the program, and I am not comfortable giving staff email addresses out on a public forum, so if you’d like me to help you get in touch, just email me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail.com – I’ll let them discuss pricing and other details with you since I don’t know if the numbers are the same as when I arranged my time slot earlier this year.