At The Good Supply in Pemaquid, Catherine McLetchie is creating the future of artisan markets.
The first time I meet Catherine McLetchie, she is floating around a party in a bright floral skirt; a reflection, I would soon find out, of her affable personality. She moves through the crowd, stopping to venerate guests, artists, and friends alike. I’ve never visited The Good Supply before, but it’s immediately clear that I’ve stumbled upon a somewhat hidden gem. There’s an embracive atmosphere here, and it didn’t happen by accident. McLetchie, who founded The Good Supply in 2012, has spent the last seven years cultivating a community built on creativity.
Situated on a back road of Pemaquid, The Good Supply started as a storefront in functional homewares, with the intention that everyday items are art. Following the mantra that “form follows function,” it was important that every item in the store held a useful purpose. The Good Supply remains largely focused on functional items but, in the last three years, McLetchie has started to embrace studio art, too. “I used to think they were different, studio art and functional art,” she says. Her consideration of what function means has shifted. When an item has no functional purpose, per se, “the beauty of when you look at it or think of handling it, or even the origin or occasion of it holds something special,” says McLetchie. Its function is the inspiration it incites.
Since 2012, The Good Supply has grown to represent 91 artists and small businesses from Maine, and 106 groups in total. McLetchie’s ultimate goal is to offer a well-balanced collection. For example, if there are three ceramic artists in the store, McLetchie will add another woodworker, blacksmith, or fiber artist to compensate. When asked about what it takes to become a Good Supply artist, McLetchie says that there are no real qualifications. “I like being open-minded to consider everybody,” she says. It generally depends on what someone is making, what their price range is, where they’re coming from, and “how nice they are on email,” she says with a smile.
McLetchie, who grew up in South Carolina, spent time after college working in Seattle’s art scene. Before moving to Maine in 2011, McLetchie was Christmas shopping and stumbled upon a retail store that changed her path. “It was very earthy; everything felt elemental and well-balanced, like equal parts pottery, woodworking, and textile fiber art,” she says. The store, Bitters Co., was a retail space dedicated to representing artists’ and makers’ work in a fair and honest way. McLetchie was inspired by the carefully curated collection and started talking with owners Katie and Amy Carson. Soon after, McLetchie realized that she wanted to create a similar concept and the Carson sisters began to mentor her. “They taught me ‘the way life should be’ regarding business, design, material objects, and how people-to-people relationships can function professionally,” she says. The Carsons also encouraged representation and recognition of heritage craft and using renewable and recycled materials whenever possible. Through the Bitters Co.’s business model and mentoring, The Good Supply was born.
There’s a clear difference between The Good Supply and a typical artisan retail shop. Influence from the Carson sisters helped to shape McLetchie’s business model, but she also took some cues from the farmers’ market business model. “We don’t want a retail–consumer relationship,” McLetchie says. “It needs to be about people and human creativity and human expression, and the sustainability of it all is important.” When someone goes to a farmers’ market, they know where their meat is coming from and who grew their vegetables. At The Good Supply, McLetchie has created an artisan market where customers can come to understand who and where their art is coming from, and where artists have the opportunity to share their processes with collectors. “[It’s about] treating all of the artists as the experts they are,” says McLetchie.
The Good Supply operates out of a soaring red barn a few miles from any form of a Main Street or downtown. While first-time business owners usually opt for a more conspicuous location, McLetchie is happy creating her vision on the outskirts of town. For McLetchie, growing a small business takes time. In her second year of business, someone advised her that the biggest mistake businesses make is growing too quickly. “So we deliberately weren’t trimming the greenery around the sign, and we haven’t been very fast to put up our sub sign to pull in more traffic,” reveals McLetchie. “Being in a rural place has been important to experience the slow pace.” The slow growth has afforded McLetchie time to curate the perfect collection and cultivate a space that corresponds to The Good Supply’s specific needs as it continues to flourish. Since opening the barn, McLetchie has been slowly making additions to its interior. Stairs and a second floor were added a year after moving in. Then the counter was added. A year later, permanent shelving was installed. McLetchie, who is a woodworker at heart, enjoys making the gradual upgrades. She is currently without a workshop and her chosen craft has taken a back seat to building the artisan market, but she doesn’t mind. “Right now, my art has to be growing a small business,” she says. And she’s thrilled to talk with, educate, and help anyone who makes their way to her storefront.
What started in McLetchie’s backyard seven years ago has grown into an artist community that’s reflective of Maine and the spirit of those who live here. It’s inclusive, enthusiastic, and humble, just like its founder. McLetchie feels lucky to work in an inspirational setting with so many other like-minded individuals while instilling creativity as a community value. “It’s incredible affirmation that this is something that could be in every community, and we’re just trying to create a model,” she says. The Good Supply is about bringing people together, generating economic support in the creative community, and intrinsically trusting in people-to-people relationships. “It seems out of the box,” she says. “But that’s intentional. We want to try something new.”
An Artful Life
With more than 90 artists based in Maine and 106 groups represented in total, The Good Supply offers a wellcurated selection of everyday housewares and studio art. Unique and beautiful items can be incorporated into part of your daily routine, easily making day-to-day life a little more dazzling.
- Look First
Always do a complete lap around the barn before settling on one specific item. This makes room for things to become more familiar, allowing you to consider how it would feel taking a new item home.
- Start Simple
Don’t be afraid to try new trends or learn to appreciate new styles. Exploring new trends can start with low-commitment items, such as greeting cards, jewelry, and small decor.
- Enhance Routines
Use striking objects to make the everyday and ordinary more exciting. Have to do laundry? Special-made dryer balls, laundry powder, and Tethermade hampers give life to the chores you’d rather not do. Lean toward items that are functional, attractive, and easy to work with.
- Honor Creativity
Let your imagination spark, and feel free to move beyond ideas into reality. Supporting local art and advocating for your favorite artists’ success helps to maintain a creative community. Locally made items also hold greater place value and more sentimentality. Beauty already exists here. Why look for it outside of Maine?