by Lee Noles
MONROE – When Kay Klaren thinks back to her childhood, she remembers being surrounded by artwork.
She recalls the detailed calligraphy her father used to enjoy doing. The drawings her older brother created with pen and pencil still stand out in her memory.
So, when Klaren became an adult, her artistic side came through when her and her husband, Matt, started building and refinishing furniture and taking pieces to marketplaces to sell. It was at these shows, however, she noticed some of the problems that came with being a travelling artist. There was the time it took to pack the artwork in their car to make long treks to places around the state. There was also having to spend money to rent booth space.
When Klaren found other artists were having similar problems, she had an idea.
“I loved the idea of all the local artists under one roof,” Klaren said. “You don’t have to go to an art store or an art gallery to find these pieces, you could find them all in one place.”
It was with that in mind that the Klarens opened 47K Marketplace in downtown Monroe in early June. The store brings together artists from Union County and surrounding areas, allowing them to sell their artwork without the hassle of travel and paying the large amounts for booths, which Klaren said sometimes ran between $200 and $300.
The name of the Klarens’ store reflects the strong bond of their family. The number 47 is the family’s favorite, and the K comes from the first letter in their last name. Klaren also wanted to get her family involved in getting the store started. Her daughter, Kacie, helped find their current location, and eventually left her teaching job in Wilmington to return home and start the process of enticing artisans to bring their work to the store.
Kacie began by going on social media to find local artists before making the rounds at marketplaces, farmers markets and artwalks to talk to people about coming to the store. After the first week, Kacie said they were selling the work of about 20 artists, but the number has grown to more than 60 in the six months since opening.
“People seem to love it,” Kay Klaren said. “At this location, I had so many people thrilled they had a place to shop or a place to show their artwork. The reaction has been real positive.”
Artists also appear to enjoy the extra exposure. Julia Walters teaches art at Forest Hills High and said the store helps in her not having to try and sell work online or pay money to rent a booth at art shows. The artists pay $25 for a space at the 47K Marketplace. Walters works in several different medians, including printmaking, where she carves designs out a linocut stamp and then places it on to an assortment of materials. One of her most popular works at the marketplace is a shirt that has Union County’s iconic old courthouse printed on the front.
“(Artists) didn’t have anything in this area prior to this,” Walters said. “There were so many artists, and we didn’t know each other. But you get to see so much more, and there are so many talented people.”
Walters said she is starting to collaborate with an artist who creates pottery and sells it at the Klarens’ marketplace.
Kay Klaren said she now feels she has an extended family since the store opened with artists stopping by regularly to have a cup of coffee and talk with each other about their work. Klaren said they even had a present exchange during the Christmas holiday.
The artwork is not just benefiting the artists themselves. Kacie said proceeds from some of the sales help certain charities. Half United, a clothing company based out of Wilmington, uses its money to help feed children in need. Just Mutts, which makes apparel and glassware for dog lovers, gives some of its proceeds to dog rescue. Other artists give money back to help children in foster care, while others help pay food, clothes or utility bills for people who may need it.
“It’s cool because when people learn that a portion of the proceeds go to help other things, people want to come in for some more purchases,” said Kacie, who brings her 2-year-old rescue dog Camden to the store when she works. “There’s a lot of pride from people in Monroe.”
The Klarens are already looking to the future with their store. They still have three more rooms that are not being used. They are thinking about possibly turning the spaces into places where artist can come and do work, or spots where classes can be taught.
“It draws people in,” said Kacie of having artists on site.
Kay Klaren still goes back to why they began the store in the first place. She wanted the artists to have a go-to place for themselves, while giving the people of Monroe a location where they can enjoy the art.
“You can tell when you go around downtown, there is a great appreciation for art,” she said. “So, I know people wanted to have a need for this.”