Ore Mercantile has carried some of Birmingham’s favorite brands since the micro-retail shop opened on Birmingham's 4th Avenue South in late 2019. Faith Skate, Alabama Peanut Co., Original B’ham, and other classics call Ore home. The store, surrounded by Birmingham staples like Seasick Records and Mom’s Basement, even includes a deli & bodega that serves some of the biggest (and most delicious) sandwiches, pastas, and sweets this side of the Mississippi.
Three new businesses are making their Ore debut this month: Smallwoods Studios, Boho Vintage, and EPolandArt. The owner behind one of these three creative businesses, Smallwoods Studios, was gracious enough to share some thoughts on this exciting new venture.
Tamara Harper has been an on again, off again self-taught crafter since she was six years old. She studied piano performance in school and always enjoyed activities that required an attention to detail. This led to a career in teaching music, but two kids and a feeling of burn out soon led her to pursue other job opportunities. Harper returned to sewing, and eventually started teaching the craft at the Birmingham Museum of Art. This experience was so pleasant and rewarding that she formed a LLC in 2019 to properly pursue this newly obtainable dream.
Smallwoods Studios offers a variety of creative products -- beautiful masks, handmade bracelets, hand-sewn affirmations, puzzles, and more make the 5-foot wide booth seem as expansive as the land of Narnia. Not everything in the booth is solely Tamara’s work -- her husband Jamison Harper is a fine artist who collaborates with his wife on a series of fun doodles called “Heroes in Domesticity” along with other colorful creations. The duo spend days dreaming up Smallwoods characters and coming up with storybook ideas.
Acquiring a retail license allowed Tamara to incorporate a wholesale approach into her shop to offset the cost of time-taking art projects. She provides knitting packs and kits with instructions (and even video tutorials) to allow Birminghamians to create many of the items that she sells for themselves -- essentially providing the city a much needed quality craft supply store with reasonable prices. This DIY approach also comes from comments she used to hear while teaching. Statements like “I’m not a musician” or “I wish I could do this but I can’t sew” were all too prevalent. Harper responds to such self-criticisms by saying, “That’s fine, but you need to access a creative part of yourself for critical thinking and creative problem solving. You need to find your seat at the creative table.” She’s ready to help you find it.
Another cool feature offered at Smallwoods Studios is the ability to drop off a backpack, dress, or any other article of clothing with suggestions to have it custom embroidered by the skilled crafter. The store also offers fabric that can’t be found anywhere else in the city -- including the esteemed Rifle Paper Co. florals.
Hand-lettering is the craft nearest to Harper’s heart, and she uses this skill set to balance meaningful quotes with funny sayings. She thinks it’s important to “make someone laugh” and to “make someone think”, which lends to her art bringing out a medley of emotions just as intended.
Tamara has come a long way since her online shop and pop-up show-filled schedule, and she’s excited to take this next big step without the extreme risk of renting out a full store. She’s grateful for Ore owners John and Kim, but the two souls that she must thank most are Avondale/Crestwood/Irondale retail legend Guro Midtsund and feminist country singer Dolly Parton.
As she reflects on the city she calls home, Harper states, “I am very, very thankful for the opportunities that have been brought to me by people in this city. I think there are a ton of creative people in the city. And I also think that there are a lot of people who haven’t accessed that and they need to access their silliness and creativity.” She makes it clear that she’s more than ready to provide the outlet for them to do so!