How Shop Owners Curate Their Boutiques During a Pandemic

Rachael Burrow
Photo credit: Tony Anderson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tony Anderson - Getty Images

From Veranda

While shop owners usually traverse the world to source one-of-a-kind, artisan-made pieces for their clients and brick-and-mortar retail spaces, a pandemic—and the subsequent travel bans in place—can make stocking a shop rather challenging. Two such shops known for their worldly wares and unique points-of-view—March and Found by Maja, both in San Francisco, are destinations for those looking for accessories, dinnerware, or furniture that feels of another place. But how to continue finding these amazing pieces during the current situation?

"I generally take a trip to France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium annually, as well as a trip to the Hudson Valley every 14 months or so," says March's Sam Hamilton. "I love to travel nationally and internationally for the sake of buying and for the inspirational experience of being in new environments, so this virus is decidedly a blow on both fronts. That being said, at March, we have wonderful long-standing relationships with so many of our artisans that being able to expand upon what we carry from each has been very fluid, even if limited to phone calls and Zoom."

Photo credit: Michael Graydon
Photo credit: Michael Graydon

Indeed, the ease of communicating has certainly helped matters, allowing shop owners to communicate with partners through email, Instagram, and WhatsApp, as well as vendors still being able to send samples of new pieces for shop owners to touch and see in person. As an added bonus, because of the slowing of the pace, Hamilton has found that artisans are able to carve out more time in their schedules for creativity.

Maja Lithander Smith, the proprietor of Found by Maja, travels to source antiques for the Sacramento Street store and works with artisans from Paris to Antigua. She knows that strong relationships with artisans and craftsmen are paramount: "The hunt itself is inspiring—you are out of your comfort zone, communicating in another language and culture, and have to open your ears and heart to the beauty around you. This is heaven to me," says Smith. "I lived abroad for many years, both as a child and an adult. With so much time overseas, I developed both language and scouting skills that are key to sourcing talented artisans."

Photo credit: Courtesy of FOUND by Maja
Photo credit: Courtesy of FOUND by Maja

As another set of eyes and ears, the artisans that March works with around the world have also been a source of discovery by making their own recommendations of who should be on Hamilton's radar. "Many of our artisans have colleagues within their own communities that they sense as kindred spirits as far as our buying culture and design sensibility at March is concerned, and they often refer new artisans our way," Hamilton says. "In this sense, our design community at March grows organically via friends of friends."

Hamilton notes that she is noticing a renewed desire for European design among her clients; perhaps that can be attributed to being unable to quench that wanderlust through physical travel. Clients also have a curiosity about the maker and the places where the dinnerware or furniture hails from, allowing March a chance to educate customers on the provenance of each design.

Photo credit: Courtesy of MARCH
Photo credit: Courtesy of MARCH

Hamilton notes this as well in her typical buying trips and how the quest is just as important as the find. "The search for great design continues to inspire me and has, traditionally, taken me to so many new places. Even if the hunt leads me to a dead-end, the journey undoubtedly yields inspiration in and of itself," says Hamilton. "Finding a great piece is terrific. It immediately evokes the various spaces it could live among and other pieces to play off of."

Likewise, Smith has noticed that her clients want to know where their pieces are coming from, who crafted them, and that they are supporting an artisan. "At the end of the day, we all want our homes to tell a story, have a soul, and reflect who we are. Gorgeously crafted pieces elevate interiors in a way nothing else can," says Smith. "There is truly no substitute for impeccable quality and storied design. All the better if it comes with a backstory."

"What I hope to express through our offering at March is that quality design, high and low and local or international, can work harmoniously together," says Hamilton. "Good design is ageless: I strive to carry pieces that are heritable."

Photo credit: Courtesy of FOUND by Maja
Photo credit: Courtesy of FOUND by Maja

So, where to for Smith and Hamilton once the situation improves and travel is once more at our fingertips?

"Paris. It holds my heart and [has] so many wonderful vendors, and I learn from each one—the antiques dealers who take the time to share each detail and history of every piece I chose and the new makers who are putting their heart and soul into each piece they create," says Smith.

"I think my first trip post-pandemic will be to the English countryside," says Hamilton. "I really do love it there and would love to take some time to learn basketry from basketmaker Annemarie O’Sullivan, a friend and longtime March vendor, from her studio in Lewes, East Sussex."

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