Support of local business should be of great importance for communities across the country as it provides economic benefits, as well as economic growth, which leads to thriving neighborhoods. In Webster Groves’ Old Orchard business district, Union Studio is doing just that.
The unique destination touts itself as “all-handmade,” and gives local artists the opportunity to display and sell their elaborate, handcrafted work.
Union Studio was founded by Mary Beth Bussen and Sarah Kelly, two St. Louisans who “wanted to give local artists a chance to show their beautiful artwork and gain the support and respect they deserve, as well as gain better opportunities in the artistic work field.”
With two main locations, one in Old Orchard and another in Tower Grove, Union Studio has earned a following in the community due to its curated merchandise and most importantly, the thoughtful, caring service it offers.
With the participation of 150 artists who reside and work in St. Louis, Union Studio has started shipping its products nationwide due to increasing demand. This decision proved crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as its second store in Old Orchard was about to open when COVID hit.
“We were offered a space in Old Orchard, and we said no at first,” Kelly said. “Yet we wanted to give our artists a better opportunity to be recognized and praised for their work by selling it in more than one store. So, we took a leap of faith and went for it.”
Unfortunately, due to the worldwide lockdown in 2020, the inauguration of the new Union Studio store had to be put on hold, forcing the store owners to adapt and change quickly to keep their business up and running.
Kelly believes the pandemic forced her and her business partner to “get out of their comfort zone,” which in the end, turned out to be for the better, as they made changes and adjustments which they were able to sustain and keep for the long run. After COVID-19, the Old Orchard store location was inaugurated, and the business began to grow exponentially.
By using online platforms such as Instagram, Union Studio managed to gain nationwide following. Kelly explains Instagram is a way for customers to know what is new in the stores via videos and photos. The platform also helps customers gain more knowledge about the artists, sales and upcoming events.
“Using Instagram as a business platform has been a blessing, yet it really requires a lot of time and effort as it has to be interactive, informative and happy, as well as energetic in order to reach a wide audience.” Kelly said, “The key, though, is to be yourself and trust your intuition to make your page one of a kind and overall special in order for it to stand out.”
With over 12,000 followers, Union Studio is only getting started. Recently, the owners have also created a Tik Tok account, on which they post fun videos, where customers get to see some of the friendly workers recommending gift ideas, as well as interactive videos around the store.
“We really care about our workers, artists, neighbors and of course our customers, which is why we want to help them come together through art,” Kelly said.
The challenge of starting – and keeping afloat – a business during the pandemic was an eye-opening experience, one that Kelly doesn’t take for granted. For those considering starting a business of their own, Kelly recommends trusting your gut and not giving up.
“Starting a business takes a lot of time and effort, yet there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a vision or a dream come to life,” she said.