The Makers Loft opened its new retail location on the Ped Mall Thursday evening, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony organized by the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The Makers Loft, at its core, is an effort to make local goods, local art more accessible to more people,” Simeon Talley, who co-owns The Makers Loft with Veronica Tessler, told Little Village after the ribbon was cut.
The shop, which occupies the former Zephyr Printing space on the corner of Dubuque and College streets, features a wide variety of carefully selected items, ranging from Wild Farm Soap and the jewelry of Wells Cooperative to decorative throws from Amana Woolen Mills and mixed media art by Emily Jalinsky.
The Makers Loft grew out of an earlier project by Talley. In 2017, he and John Engelbrecht founded RADinc — the name was an acronym for “Retail Art Design Incubator” — in a downtown building on E Washington Street. At the time, real estate developers were considering demolishing the building, so the pair was able to get an affordable, albeit short-term, lease for RADinc in the large space that had formerly housed The Den.
RADinc hosted music shows, art exhibits and other events.
“It was kind of an all-purpose community space,” Talley explained. “We tried to do a little bit of retail there, but it wasn’t quite successful.”
After the building’s fate was resolved and it was no longer facing demolition, RADinc moved upstairs to a smaller space.
“We decided to focus on one thing,” Talley said. “That was retail.”
“We always were driven by the idea of working with local artists, local makers, people who are doing things local and who could benefit from having an affordable and accessible space for their work, but don’t have it,” he continued. “Once we started thinking through that, and making connections with a lot of interested people, the idea for The Makers Loft really started to gel.”
One of the people Talley talked to was Tessler.
“I’ve been a big proponent of a shop like this for a long time,” Tessler said. “To me, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Talley and Tessler have collaborated on projects before, including Political Party Live, a group that stages events combining art and progressive politics, and which has been attracting national attention for its podcasts featuring 2020 presidential candidates. That they are both members of the group is appropriate because it was politics that brought both Talley and Tessler to Iowa.
Talley moved to Iowa City from his native Ohio to work for the Obama campaign during the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and decided to stay after campaign season was over. He worked at a number of different jobs, including a stint at Little Village, before emerging as a leader in the local arts scene and an entrepreneur. He’s played a central role in creating Flyover Fest and the Middle of Nowhere music fest.
Tessler also moved to Iowa during the 2008 campaign season, after finishing graduate school in Virginia. She took a position at the Stanley Foundation in Muscatine, a think tank focused on foreign policy issues. She told Little Village she was interested in taking a job in Iowa, because it allowed her an opportunity to volunteer for the Obama campaign. Tessler spent years working on issues related to the international arms trade and nuclear proliferation, before striking out on her own and starting Iowa City’s first frozen yogurt shop, Yotopia.
The Makers Loft was launched in 2018, in the same space RADinc had occupied. But since it was upstairs, there was no foot traffic and the shop received limited attention. But during last year’s holiday shopping season, The Makers Loft had a successful pop-up store in Coral Ridge Mall. At the beginning of this year, that pop-up moved into a more permanent location at the mall, and will remain open as the shop’s second location.
As for the new place on the Ped Mall, its corner spot and larger space offers The Makers Loft new options. Next month, the shop will start selling coffee and grab-and-go sandwiches from a walk-up window. The new space also has a large basement, where the shop will stage events and hold classes.
“This is just the first step for this space,” Talley said.