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Connecting local handmade businesses with the community

Wisconsin Makers Market Owner Chelsea Higley aims to make an impact in the art scene locally, statewide

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January 22, 2024

EAU CLAIRE – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Chelsea Higley said she knew she had to do something different.

A maker herself, Higley said she saw a need that had to be filled once all the in-person selling avenues shut down and makers were struggling to get their products seen.

What came next would be the beginning of what in time became the Wisconsin Makers Market – a brick-and-mortar vendor market.

“I started a virtual Wisconsin Handmade Market on Facebook.” Higley said, “It took place once a month, Friday-Sunday. It was a hit and did well for about one and a half years.”

Once storefronts began to reopen, Higley said she found people were not buying online as much, and she ultimately closed the group – which at that point had more than 2,000 members.

Though, Higley said, she noticed craft fairs and vendor markets didn’t open up as quickly – which gave her the impetus to act, and open the Wisconsin Markers Market at 106 E. Grand Ave. in Eau Claire in October 2021.

“While we have some amazing shops in Eau Claire that sell local goods, art and more, there was not a place that focused on only handmade products in Wisconsin,” she said.

Wisconsin Makers Market, Higley said, offers that.

More about the store

Higley said Wisconsin Makers Market is a one-stop shop for purchasing high-quality, handmade Wisconsin products.

The store, she said, sells everything from snacks, home decor and jewelry to apparel, books, and art – with most products being one of a kind.

In addition to the store, Higley said she also works with community partners to host vendor markets at various locations throughout the region – including at the new Eau Claire Event District.

The markets, she said, allow her to support more vendors than she can accommodate in the store – which includes young entrepreneurs (aged five to 18).

Higley said she sets aside booths at each market for those budding makers, which also receive a discounted booth price.

She said the markets also allow her to support the community – raising money through raffles for local nonprofits.

Higley said vendors can donate a product, or multiple products, to the raffle, with all sales going directly to the organization at the end of the event.

In 2023, she said the efforts raised more than $1,700 total for the three nonprofits, including Agnes’ Table, Helping Kids Around the Chippewa Valley, Hope Village-Tiny Housing Alternatives Inc. and Sojourner House.

Highley said it’s important to her to create a clear distinction between the markets and the story.

“I work hard to ensure there is not much product overlap both within the store and at (the) markets,” she said. “This ensures makers do not need to compete with mass-produced products and similar handmade products.”

Higley said her original plan was to open a store that sold handmade products and housed a second-hand craft supply section.

However, due to the limited store space, she said the focus was put on handmade products.

Until now.

“I am excited to announce the craft thrifting section will open in February,” she said. “After I made the announcement, I received so much positive feedback.”

Higley said the second-hand craft section is for people who have craft supplies around they will never use and will likely end up donating anyway.

“If they donate to my store, I will break things down into smaller quantities, each marked with a price range, instead of a set price, so they can choose how much they can pay within that range,” she said.

Higley said this allows more people to get creative and try new things without needing to spend a lot of money on supplies that come in bulk.

This space, she said, will also have some new things, such as DIY kits and unique craft supplies.

Becoming a vendor

Higley said the store and markets accept a wide variety of handmade products – beyond just arts and crafts.

About 80% of the makers in the store, she said, live within the Chippewa Valley, while the rest are scattered throughout the state.

As of this month, Higley said the store has around 125 vendors displayed, however, this can vary from month to month with pop-ups switching out.

“I currently have a waitlist because I am not able to take many more vendors at this time,” she said. “If I can take them, it either needs to be through a pop-up or it depends on what they make and if I feel I can fit it in the store.”

To help highlight the makers and the products they have available, Higley said she took up photography – offering it as a value-added at the store.

The pop-ups, she said, are provided with a few photos to use for their purposes as part of their rental fee.

“If you’re online, the photo is the first thing a customer sees and whether or not it can grab their attention is vital,” she said. “Especially in the virtual world we live in today. Using social media platforms to showcase and sell your products is important and the photos are the first step.”

Though Wisconsin Maker Market has a presence online (, Higley said “because most of the products in the store are one of a kind, I am not able to get them all listed on my website.”

Higley said the products available also change regularly.

“In general, it’s amazing to watch the ebbs and flows of what types of products sell and when,” she said. “It’s hard to predict what people are going to want next, and that’s a great thing about my store – it is constantly changing and getting new products and makers, so there is always something new and fresh.”

Learning as she went

As she continues to navigate business ownership as the store approaches its second year in operation, Higley said she always has her eyes on the future.

“The place I am now was a great place to get the business started, but I do hope to grow into a larger space in the future,” she said.

Higley said she has also grown as an entrepreneur.

“I have made changes to how I operate the store based on what I have learned about what is not only good for the customers and vendors, but what makes the most sense – especially financially, for the store itself,” she said. 

Higley said she has expanded her social media presence as well.

“Social media is vital to the success of this business,” she said. “My store is located on a dead-end, and this store is a hidden gem. So, I rely on social media and advertising to bring customers in.”

The most fulfilling part of the journey thus far, Higley said, is knowing she plays a part in the journey of makers getting their products seen and purchased.

“When someone purchases something you took time to make, it creates a sense of pride and accomplishment,” he said. “I love being a part of that.”

Higley said Wisconsin Makers Market’s growth thus far was recognized by the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce – as the recipient of the 2023 Emerging Business of the Year award.

“Our community is great about supporting local business all around and supporting artists and makers,” she said.

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