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The Art of Business: Waxwing Succeeds in Shorewood

Steph Davies gives solid representation to artists, deepens Shorewood experience with art.

"So, how ya doing here? Is it working out?"

Proprietor Steph Davies of the Waxwing hears this question a lot. And the answer is a resounding "Yes," with a big smile. The warm, cheery and engaging Davies always has time to hear her customers and visitors, while managing 96 artists and their work, as well as creating her own pieces. Everything at Waxwing is handmade, largely by local artists, and everything changes out every two months. Starting Tuesday, you can expect a fresh look for Fall. 

Davies is making a difference in the creative community in her store that she describes as "A kind of Art vs. Craft that lasts all year and is always here.

"Or a kind of Etsy shop in real life. You can come here and hold things in your hand first before buying," she says.

An experienced manager and artist, she is learning the realities of ownership of a shop that is open every day, no matter what is up.

"No sick days," she says with a smile, "and that's hard."

She is consistent, dependable, and smiles through. It's working.

She not only has the kind of art background artists dream about — a bachelors of fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (ask her about scholarships, she is a pro) — she also has a storied career in odd jobs, shop management and music. Her managerial experiences, combined with a dream to open just such an outlet for art, a savvy about textures and pieces that belies her age, and a true gift of honest conversation makes her the true gem in a store filled with work.

Her vision is growing momentum, and customers and artists alike are very positive.

"I get applications every day from artists," she said.

She has grown from representing 60 artists to a current total of 96, and each one visits the store, changing out and replenishing their work every 2 months.  

"People are a little surprised to see how much new work comes through the store," Davies said. "Really, if you have your eye on something, chances are someone will buy it or the artist will change it after the two month window."

Artists enjoy a very generous 60 percent commission, while the store retains 40 percent.

Another aspect of Davies' doyenne is her palpable and very genuine enjoyment of people. As her business model is not the expected entrepreneurial wholesale-plus-markup — this 60 percent/40 percent artists (60 for the artist) showcase really supports the arts, as well as makes a nice place to learn about work. Walk in and you will have a wonderful conversation, as Davies makes it easy to ask about art, process and life. She genuinely likes Shorewood, and it shows.  

"I really like hearing people's stories. I am so fortunate to have such a walkable community," she said. "It's the best audience — everyone is eager to learn more about the work. I have returning customers and I know them, and it's just nice to help out."

Davies also encourages young shoppers to come, and has some areas of the shop that cater more to younger tastes and budgets.

The Waxwing is stretching its wings this fall and is offering one-session classes for adults and children, which are filling fast (register directly on the website.)

"It is so nice to have the ability to offer open classes with artists," she said. "I'm excited about our mask-making class for kids in October."

The Waxwing has art openings for different artists it represents every 60 days, offers acoustic music listening sessions, and offers classes for the public.

David Tatarowicz September 01, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Congratulations to Ms Davies --- she has the right attitude for running a small business. I know previous tenants in that same space did not have the same work ethic and attitude --- when customers cannot depend upon you being open, they stop coming. Predictability is perhaps the most important aspect a small shop owner has to offer her customers, and she obviously "gets it" --- happy to see you are doing well
b authentic September 01, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I love shopping for gifts at The Waxwing. Such an assortment of eclectic pieces! I never leave empty handed. It's always a pleasure chatting with Steph, she is a lovely person.
Karen Nelson September 02, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Since I'm not from Shorewood, I would have like to have an address or at least street name for the shop.
Adam W. McCoy (Editor) September 02, 2012 at 03:44 PM
4415 N. Oakland Ave.
Stephanie Davies September 02, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Karen-you can read more about what the store has to offer online: www.thewaxwing.com, it's located at 4415 N Oakland Avenue and is open Tues-Fri, 11-7 and on Saturdays from 10-5
J.P. September 03, 2012 at 01:08 PM
What a great article. I am always pleased with my purchases from the Waxwing and encourage all of my friends to shop there. Keep up the excellent work Steph!
Stephanie Davies September 07, 2012 at 08:15 PM
While we appreciate the sudden influx of artists interested in being in the shop, we are overflowing with artwork and are not currently accepting new artists. For complete guidelines on submitting work, please visit our website: http://www.thewaxwing.com. We review all work online...no walk-ins/in store reviews. Thanks!!
Jenny Heyden November 16, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Congratulations to the Waxwing of Shorewood for winning the Shepherd Express Best of Milwaukee's 2012 New Retail Store! http://expressmilwaukee.com/article-20167-bought-sold.html

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