PictureSuzy Ekman, owner of the new Makers Market shop at the Mill Valley Lumber Yard at 129 Miller Avenue.

When Mill Valley Lumber Yard co-owner Jan Mathews connected with Makers Market owner Suzy Ekman at the latter’s Santana Row store in 2017, the two hit it off and made arrangement to have Ekman visit MVLY and consider taking a space there for a new location of retail brand that showcases and celebrates the products of independent creators, artists and makers.

Upon arrival, Ekman didn’t require an elaborate sales pitch – she knew quickly it was a good match, and took a 900-square-foot space that straddles Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio Creek at MVLY, located at 129 Miller Avenue.

“My brand is authentic, nostalgic, high quality and it draws upon tradition,” she says. “When I saw the project was an upscale, thoughtful historic restoration of an old lumber yard, it had a huge appeal. The basic nature of it is as a place where people made things was a great fit for us.  That, combined with the natural beauty of the creek and the redwoods, it was quick decision. ”

Fast forward to present day, and Ekman and operations manager Heath Owen opened Makers Market at MVLY this month. Coupled with the opening of Flour Craft Bakery on April 7 – in addition to the long-established Ambatalia, Bloomingayles and Guideboat Co. – the Mill Valley Lumber Yard is abuzz.

“We’re really excited to have a space here and to connect with this community,” Ekman adds.

They’re not wasting any time to do so, as they’ve set an opening celebration event for Saturday, May 5 (10am-5pm), featuring a live bluegrass band, wine, bites and an outdoor market from 20 local artists, including KMW Glass from San Anselmo, Mill Valley’s Heather Soicher Ceramics and fiber artist Zelma Rose from West Marin. A week earlier – on Sunday, April 29, Makers Market kicks off its weekly trunk shows, a showcase of a single artist, starting with Char Maassen Jewelry Design.

The arrival of Makers Market continues the history of the DIY spirit in Mill Valley, from its decades-old craft fairs and arts festivals to creative hubs like Once Around and more recent additions like Pollen + Wool and The Makery.

It also builds on the Lumber Yard’s ever-growing reputation as a community gathering space. The Mathews family bought the 42,500-square-foot property in 2012 from the Cerri family, which had owned and maintained it as a lumber yard and True Value hardware store for the previous 14 years. The property was built by lumber magnate Robert Dollar in 1892 as Dollar Lumber Company.

The Mathews steered their plans to renovate through the Planning Commission and City Council before garnering approval in July 2016. They’re now on the home stretch of that vast renovation.

The concept for Makers Market spawned in Ekman’s vivid memories of helping her father in his workshop as a girl growing up in Huntsville, Alabama. “We just had such great access to so many different kinds of people who made things,” she says. “As a result, I grew up with a great appreciation for that and loved the type of people that do that type of thing for a living, just  – extremely genuine and down to earth, resourceful people.”

Ekman went cross-country to Cal Poly for college, majoring in business before moving into a long career in the tech consulting world.“After 25-30 years of doing that, it became time to do what I was super passionate about, which was the celebration and support of American craft and American makers,” she says.

Ekman originally planned to open a business that provided equipment, technological and marketing support for makers, but as she dug into the business, she realized that retail was a better idea.

She launched in June 2014, and opened a pop-up shop in the Westfield Center in San Francisco five months later. Ekman moved the shop to a larger space within Westfield for one year through late 2015, and then opened a shop in Santana Row in San Jose. In July 2017, she opened another store in Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek.

One of the distinctive elements of Makers Market are the regular events that step beyond the confines of the retail space. Ekman hosts monthly outdoor markets, providing an opportunity for artists whose work is not yet on Makers Market shelves to showcase their work in that setting. The typical event hosts between 20-50 artists, featuring live music and drinks. The MVLY location will host at least six outdoor markets a year, Ekman says.

It’s a great opportunity to learn what products are well-received that marketplace,” she says. “That’s a big way that we learn what will end up in Makers Market. We are all about letting local makers get exposure.”

Ekman is steeped in the world of makers and craftspeople. She’s a national curator for the American Craft Council, the oldest nonprofit supporting American crafts in the country.

“That means that I get to review thousands of artisans across the country every year,” Ekman says. “A lot of those products end up being in our stores and at our markets.”

For the past several years, Ekman has also served on a panel of experts that also includes reps from Etsy and Kickstarter to determine USA Today’s annual “10Best Makers in the USA.”

The key to Makers Market, Ekman says, is that each location features local makers.

“A big thing for us is to have it be as local as possible,” she says.

The 411: Makers Market, which is open in the Mill Valley Lumber Yard at 129 Miller Ave., hosts an opening celebration event for Saturday, May 5 (10am-5pm), featuring a live bluegrass band, wine, bites and an outdoor market from 20 local artists, including KMW Glass from San Anselmo, Mill Valley’s Heather Soicher Ceramics and Carmen Q Jewelry from Novato. Registration requested. MORE INFO.

NOTE: Due to parking limitations, there will be an all-day FREE shuttle service running from Mt. Tamalpais High School (700 Miller Avenue) to the Lumber Yard. Attendees are asked to park at the high school and use the shuttle to get to and from the Lumber Yard, and NOT to park in the surrounding neighborhoods.

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