In this year’s Scout’s Honored Awards—our annual reader-voted guide to the best businesses in Somerville—we stepped inside some of the local favorites who took home wins to introduce you to the people who make them so great.
If you’re a Somerville crafter or creative type, you might just remember a long-running market called the Bizarre Bazaar.
It existed in a pre-SOWA era—and in fact, it predated today’s craft fair explosion entirely. At a time when these events tended to trade in candles and potpourri, the Bazaar was the weird, punk-rock cousin, with live music and drinks and unusual, handmade goods for a slightly, uh, hipper set.
“The slogan of the BB was, ‘Not your grandma’s craft fair,’” chuckles David Sakowski.
Sakowski helped organize the Bazaar for many years, but eventually, as it grew, it became clear that there were enough makers and shoppers that this kind of thing could work year-round.
“We thought, there should be a store to sell this kind of stuff,” he says. So, along with four other Bazaar organizers, he made one: Magpie, which opened its doors in 2004.
It’s a small shop, not much larger than some Somerville living rooms (which you’ll realize is saying something, if you rent here). But every square inch of space is packed with beautiful things. Air plants dangle from the ceiling; handcrafted glassware and ceramic dishes glint on a table.
Thirteen years (and one weathered recession) later, Sakowski is Magpie’s only remaining owner, but the store is flourishing. In fact, its little sibling, Magpie Kids, which stocks similarly unique and offbeat items for the smaller set, opened four years ago in Porter Square. Sakowski largely credits Magpie’s specific aesthetic (and its success) to employees like manager Emily Wensberg and assistant manager Alina MacLean. The store’s energy—a bit naturalistic, somewhat bookish, quite cozy, a little witchy—is due to the fact that they’re admittedly selective.
And they really do track down the best stuff, things you wouldn’t find anywhere else—at least, not without dedicating hours and hours to browsing Etsy and Instagram.
“I think one of the things we like best is finding people who are just starting out,” Wensberg says. “We have a lot of makers who have never sold in a store before.” She and MacLean often find themselves working with artists-turned-vendors— figuring out a fair way to structure their pricing, helping them scale sales up and down. They find people at craft fairs or online, and frequently work with local makers who simply stroll into the store and ask about selling their wares.
“We’re also really lucky to have a lot of awesome, artsy people who work here,” MacLean adds. “All of us tend to work together to come in and be like, ‘Have you seen this person on Instagram? Her work is amazing, and she’s based out of Cambridge’ … we love finding makers that we’re passionate about.”
Maybe it makes sense, then, that just about all of Magpie’s employees are makers themselves. You’ll regularly find MacLean, an illustrator, selling her prints at Boston Hassle’s Black Market—today’s punk-rock equivalent of SoWa. That’s a great way to meet new artisans, too; one recent discovery is Boston’s Blood Moon, which just started selling bone and crystal rings through the shop.
“It’s awesome when it comes full-circle like that, and it reinforces what’s so great about the local people here,” Wensberg says. “It turns into such a community place. So many people come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, I know this girl, this is my old roommate who makes these.’ That’s the point!”
“One of the things I really like about the store is the relationships you have with the artists,” Sakowski affirms. “I’m at the kids’ store most of the time now … but there’s some artists who we’ve been selling for a decade.” He points to the colorful faux-taxidermy by Horrible Adorables, or Shara Porter’s hand-printed wallets, or Bread and Badger’s sandblasted glass mugs. Local artists who move out of town stay in touch; visiting artists make a point to stop by the shop when they roll through town. “You feel like you know these people in a way,” he adds. “It’s just nice.”
All of which makes Magpie feel like the Cheers or Central Perk of the artistic set. It’s comfortable; it’s a community hub. It’s a place where everybody knows your name… or if they don’t, they at least know your work.
This story appears in the September/October print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.