Wharton: Quilted Bear celebrates Utah's 'crafty folks'
Many Utahns are crafty folks.
Don't believe it?
Then visit the 47,000-square-foot Quilted Bear store in Midvale, where more than 250 crafters sell a dazzling variety of products that range from sentimental to high quality to hilarious to simply absurd.
This is a place where you can purchase cups with magnets so they can be attached to a refrigerator, a Santa print with a University of Utah sports theme, finely made dresses and quality furniture.
Those seeking a funny or inspirational sign, a nativity scene or wreath, something different favoring a beloved sports team or Elvis memorabilia likely will find it at the Quilted Bear.
According to Shawna Evans, manager of the Midvale establishment, the idea for a store where local crafters might sell their wares came to Judy Dunford, who started the company 20 years ago. Today, there are stores separately owned by three Dunford sons in Midvale, Provo and Ogden.
Evans, who has been with the company for 20 years, said her store holds a "Jury Day" every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when potential sellers bring in their items. Staffers check their quality, make certain they don't duplicate items already on sale and talk price.
"What we are looking for is uniqueness and quality," said Evans, sitting on a bench table near the little restaurant that is part of the store. "I can't tell you what different is, but it is what we are looking for."
The store buys some of the items it sells, especially furniture, from markets throughout the country. But in most cases, crafters will sign a six-month contract to rent a booth. The Quilted Bear receives an 11 percent commission on hand-made items.
That means the creators don't have to be at the store all the time, but can rely on the staff to operate the cash registers, keep track of what sells and take special orders.
Evans said crafters try to make their booths appear as if they have their own store within a store. It takes work. Many booths are changed from holiday to holiday, with Christmas and Halloween being the two biggest.
"We have the best crafters here," Evans said. "They amaze me with what they come with. People will see something and wonder, 'Why didn't I come up with that?' Holidays are the very best around here."
Indeed, this time of year, the Quilted Bear is a cornucopia of red and green Christmas decorations. My wife, Nancy, and I struggled not to spend too much of our holiday budget, but we just kept finding things that would look great in the house or make a wonderful gift. The best part is the uniqueness of the products. Wander the aisles and it's impossible not to find something you have never seen before. Most of the prices were quite reasonable.
"People have to watch their prices," said Evans, who knows most of the store's products are not essentials. "It's hard for crafters to make money. You don't get paid for your time in the craft industry."
That said, some like Jim Shore, who specializes in wooden sculptures, many featuring Disney characters started small and turned the business into a national line.
Like most successful businesses, Evans said, the Quilted Bear continues to evolve. She and her staff work hard to find items such as furniture that appeal to younger families.
The store's appeal is that, in an era of franchises where sameness seems to rule, it's different and fun. When was the last time you went shopping and came away surprised by the products you saw? That's how I felt after leaving the Quilted Bear.