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RapidChat: Marlee Grace

Marlee Grace

RapidChat is a bi-weekly glimpse into the life and work of an interesting local. This week we highlight Marlee Grace, a maker and entrepreneur who encourages connections within her community through workshops, handmade products, and conversation at her shop on Division Ave., Have Company. Read on to learn more about Marlee's Eastown-living, shop-keeping, yoga-teaching lifestyle.
RG: How did you find yourself here on Division Avenue, operating Have Company?

MG: I grew up on the Northeast side by the Grand Coney then went to the University of Michigan where I got a BFA in dance. When I first moved back to Grand Rapids after college, I worked with Jenn Schaub to organize Avenue for the Arts events and joined the Division Avenue Arts Collective board of directors and got really excited about this street. The avenue brought me and the avenue has kept me. The openness and possibilities have been great.

RG: How did you end up having your own general store?

MG: I wanted to have a store but I didn’t know how to do it, at first. I decided to have a travelling store in a camper. William Campbell, who makes all the lamps for sale at Have Company, he built out the inside of a camper for me. It was really fun operating a mobile shop but I wanted a store I could hang out in. So I created Have Company and we sell printed goods, zines, vintage clothing, handmade clothes, and so much more.

RG: What is a zine?

MG: We sell magazines and art books, and a zine falls into the category. They’re small run, not many more than a hundred copies made. Usually DIY, printed on a xerox, black and white. You usually sell a zine for $1-5. Anyone can have one, anyone can make one, you don’t have to wait for someone to say it is good. DIY gardening, to poetry, to perzine - which is a diary style zine. I went to the Chicago zine fest four years ago and it was insane. There were 200 of the radest people ever. I got really into it. Plus living in coops in Ann Arbor, zines were around.

RG: While at U of M did you see yourself doing all this? You studied dance, then opened a shop. Were you prepared to navigate the challenges of a small business?

MG: It’s been hard as hell. So easy and so hard at the same time. Have Company is a labor of love, with my community helping in so many ways. Lot of bartering. Everything you see is built by the hands of my friends. I think that is really powerful. People feel really good when they are in here. It’s not stuff from IKEA, it is barn wood from our friends' parent’s barn. I think that makes a really big difference. We didn’t hire contractors to build out our store. We worked with our friends. John bartered a beautiful photoshoot with our friend who built the table we are sitting at. Our friend Will said, “I will build a bench and coffee table for a reading corner, but they can be for sale.” So it’s finding how things work for everybody.

RG: Well, fast forward a couple years and you have a very cozy shop that is most definitely fostering community. Where does it go from here?

MG: I focus on local makers but am really interested in what is going on in the national scene. I follow publications, handmade goods, artists from all over that I read about on Design*Sponge and different blogs, and I make connections through Instagram. I connect with different makers outside of Grand Rapids and carry their stuff. Secret Holiday Company makes affirmation banners that say things like “be brave” and “it’s okay” -- they’re out of Massachusetts. Doug Johnston makes functional handmade goods as well as installations in Brooklyn. Bird and Feather live in California but are from Grand Rapids; I sell their terrariums.

The next step was to bring things from outside Grand Rapids, once I’d saved up money and could order wholesale. Now I am carrying other people’s products but I want to see connections being made so I want to see makers in my space inspiring people and selling their craft so I am starting a residency program.

RG: With your upcoming residency where you’ll host visiting makers in an apartment behind Have Company, what are you most looking forward to?

MG: I’m so excited to have new friends. I pick people that I think are going to be awesome people to spend time with. I’m hosting nine different people April to June. They will all be teaching workshops while here and build awesome energy. I picked people I want to learn from and I think it is going to be good for Grand Rapids. There are no Michigan artists, it’s all makers new to the area. I think it will activate the neighborhood.

RG: Where do we find you when you’re not at Have Company?

I eat at Bartertown a lot. I like the Cheers feeling. I like when people come in and I’m like, here -  you’ll love this magazine. So in the same way, I like going to other businesses and they say hey, Marlee, you have to taste this. At Applebees no one tells you to try the new salad they just created.

I worked at Marie Catrib’s for many years and I still love eating there and just being there. I want to create that same kind of space. I dont want to go into a stale environment, especially when the exchange of money is involved.

You can find me on the couch - knitting, quilting, it’s my couch office. I like to sit on soft things while I make soft things.

You can find me in my neighborhood. My husband and I live in Eastown and we love to eat dinner then take walks.

I’m an assistant yoga teacher at Funky Buddha. Yoga has always been cross-conditioning for my dance practice. I want to have a toned body so in the past it was like, alright, I’ll do this thing. And then recently, I knew I needed a consistent physical practice of exercise. I was feeling blah. Funky Buddha had an opening in their teacher training program, so I gave it a shot. I had liked classes in the past. I got hooked and joined the staff.

RG: So you work in Heartside where you’ve set up your shop, but you live in Eastown. Is that separation intentional?

MG: We have gone back and forth about living behind the shop, but the reality is that we want a yard to grow food in and a porch to sit on. We like being in a residential neighborhood. I like the separation of space. John works out of our home so our basement is a recording studio and film development room. He needs space.

RG: Do you find good resources in Grand Rapids for creatives?

MG: Dwelling Place hands down is one of the most incredible resources ever. There is so much to tap into, the Avenue for the Arts is creating so much. I’ve looked into other places and neighborhoods, but Avenue for the Arts has the organization and support. Dwelling Place is my landlord, and it’s a nonprofit that wants businesses to succeed. How awesome is that?

We have an advisory committee meeting every month to discuss all kinds of concerns and ideas... like, hey people are dealing drugs outside my door, to how to drive more traffic. And we plan events. First Friday is a great event. Three printmakers will be at Have Company for First Friday on March 7. I want to fill the block with incredible projects.

Molly Crist is the RapidChat correspondent at Rapid Growth Media.

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