Grand Rapids organization helps local artisans expand businesses

GVL / McKenna Peariso  The Wealthy Theater sign promoting the Vendor Exchange event.

GVL / McKenna Peariso  The Wealthy Theater sign promoting the Vendor Exchange event.

McKenna Peariso

Each month, Grand Rapids-based artists, designers and entrepreneurs gather in the rustic lobby of the Wealthy Theatre to celebrate local business and creatives at the Indie Flea Market. The market, which takes place on the first Saturday of each month, is put together by local non-profit group called ‘The Vendor Exchange’. The organization works to create bonds in the community between local artisans and the public, as well as to educate and empower emerging businesses. 

The Indie Flea Market is just one of the recurring events held by The Vendor Exchange. The group also offers several opportunities for Grand Rapids startups to network, learn, sell their products and establish themselves in the community.

The Vendor Exchange’s success in helping local creators and small businesses reflects the emphasis Grand Rapids places on its local art community, said Kailee Naber of Kaileepaints. 

“I really think Grand Rapids supports small businesses and creatives much more than other cities” said Naber, who has been a part of the Vendor Exchange since its beginning. “The community of artists has been very uplifting as I’ve been getting started.”

Grand Rapids has long been considered a haven for artists as the city continues to churn out more opportunity  each year with events like ArtPrize, Festival of the Arts and more. 

“I think (the Grand Rapids art scene) is very positive,” said Amanda Joy-Gilbert of Happy Henna. “I think that, especially here on the East Side of Grand Rapids, it’s all about artists and local artists and supporting people, so I think it’s been really positive.”

Another event hosted by the Vendor Exchange is The Moonshine Movie Market, held the third Thursday evening of every month. The market offers an opportunity for small-time vendors to sell their work at the Pop Up Shop-GR on Division Avenue in the downtown arts district. The event is a different type of shopping experience as it plays a silent movie and jazz music while shoppers can browse the work of local artisans.

Networking events are also put on by the organization regularly to invite an open dialogue for artists looking for insight on establishing a business in the Grand Rapids area. These events are helping to cultivate a community of successful artists that help make Grand Rapids the culture hub that it is. 

“I think as there are more outlets like The Indie Exchange, people are more exposed to the value of shopping local and handmade, and that helps other artisans get out our names and our business and help thrive and help the community as a whole,” said local artist and vendor Matthew Lacopelli.

The Vendor Exchange is a socially responsible company that puts an emphasis on its events and collaborated businesses to be environmentally and socially ethical. All of the events put on by the group are plastic free and all flyers and brochures are printed on sustainable, eco-friendly paper. 

This dedication to environmentally-friendly business is prominent in almost all businesses associated with the organization. KaileePaints, which is part of the exchange, uses recycled wood and restored frames to create intricate decorative pieces. Another vendor, Ethereal Acorns, crafts jewelry and keepsakes from nature including acorns and other organic materials.

Many of the small businesses that operate through the Vendor Exchange also have strong ties to charities that benefit from their sales. Trades of Hope, which can be found at many Vendor Exchange shopping events, sells merchandise made by women in other countries to help benefit their families, communities and local economies. 

Joy-Gilbert uses Happy Henna to give back through doing a variety of henna creations that include ‘crowning’ local cancer patients as a form of therapy by putting a henna design on the head to help women battling cancer cope with the hair loss.

All events put on by the Vendor Exchange can be found on the organization’s Facebook page, which also provides links to the artists and small businesses that have joined the group.