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San Pedro Looks to Set Sales With Arts and Crafts

Crochet bracelets. Sea-glass wind chimes. Molded clay “boobie” pins.

Those are just some of the wacky wares vendors will begin selling at an arts and crafts marketplace, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, in San Pedro starting June 29.

The market, housed in two repurposed World War II warehouses that will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays all year long, is at near capacity with more than 100 vendors for its first phase. Four more phases will follow in the next 18 to 24 months, eventually filling 500 total spaces.

Participating merchants are generally optimistic about opening weekend, but with some reservations. Most have only sold their hand-crafted products at weekend art fairs or online. So signing a lease for a semipermanent space at Crafted is a departure from the norm. They’re nervous that the marketplace could fail to consistently draw the crowds they’ll need to pay their leases.

After all, San Pedro is a long drive for most Angelenos. And it has got a long way to go before it’s known as an artists’ community comparable to L.A. neighborhoods such as Silver Lake and Venice.

Erinn Soule, a stay-at-home mom of four, will open a booth called Heart & Soule Designs. She’s hoping to turn her hobby creating funny clay “boobie” pins – they’re shaped like breasts and some of the proceeds go to cancer research – and other custom clay items into a profitable business. She said she’s worried, especially since a friend backed out of sharing the space at the last minute.

“My biggest concern is, how will I ever make enough to support the booth each and every month?” she said. “The economy is so bad right now that I’m nervous about that. Will there be buying power? Will people be down there opening their wallets?”

Soule plans to sell her clay trinkets for between $3 and $45.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a public policy professor at USC who studies the economic impact of art, said the vendors’ concerns are understandable.

“This is a really uncertain situation,” she said. “It’s not like they’re setting up in Silver Lake or Venice, where success might be more certain.”

Bergamot connection

Crafted is the brainchild of Wayne Blank, who brought Bergamot Station’s fine art galleries and creative office space to Santa Monica 20 years ago.

It’s expected to have 500,000 annual visitors, based on attendance at local craft fairs, including Laguna Beach’s annual Sawdust Art Festival.

Allison Marik Zeno, executive director for Crafted, said she’s confident the artists’ distinctive work will keep crowds coming weekend after weekend.

“The quality of the artisans in the marketplace will make it stand out no matter what,” she said. “The level of work, the conceptual thought, the cleverness that this entire group of people possesses, is really inspiring.”

Most vendors who will open booths at Crafted previously had no permanent place to set up shop. Instead, they sold their wares at local arts, craft or food fairs, where booths can cost between $100 and $800, depending on the event. That meant merchants had to set up and break down their stations on a regular basis and lug things from car to booth to car again. Now, many said that they’ll forego attending those fairs at least until they find out how successful they’ll be at Crafted.

Loretta Pressley, 74, creates home décor items from sea glass, driftwood and shells. She and her husband are glad to have a more permanent place for their business, Art-Sea Creations, so they can put the grueling work of weekend art fairs behind them.

“We’ve been doing shows for the last two-and-a-half years,” she said. “But last August, my husband had a pretty major heart attack. This will enable us to keep pursuing this.”

Vendors must apply and be accepted to join the artisan community. Those who joined Crafted for its first phase signed six-month leases for 100-square-foot spaces, though Crafted will eventually require yearlong leases. Rent is $500 a month for 100 square feet. Vendors who want more space can lease adjoining spaces to double or triple the size of the booth.

Location, location

Some vendors worry Crafted might be too far off the beaten path to get many visitors. That’s because San Pedro isn’t exactly centrally located in Los Angeles. It’s a 25-mile jaunt from downtown on the Harbor (110) Freeway.

Grace Juhn, who bakes cupcakes in a commercial kitchen in Reseda to sell at food fairs and farmers markets, will open a booth for her business, Cake Bar.

“It’s definitely a hike, but it’s one of those things you have to consider when you’re doing this kind of new venture,” Juhn said. “I’m hoping it’s not going to be a deal breaker.”

Currid-Halkett said the out-of-the-way locale might be a hurdle to attracting customers.

“San Pedro is far away, and it’s not yet a destination,” she said. “I suppose the optimistic way to look at it is that it has to start somewhere. By having a place like Crafted, they’re setting in motion the way in which they could lure residents and visitors to come.”

There are a few factors that could help Crafted draw more crowds.

On the first weekend in July, the Navy will open the World War II battleship U.S.S. Iowa to the public as a floating museum. It’s expected to draw about 400,000 visitors a year.

Plus, San Pedro’s home to the Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Center, the starting point for hundreds of vacation cruises each year.

Soule, with her clay-sculpted trinkets, said she’s counting on the cruise business to boost her bottom line.

“I personally am really relying and hoping on the cruise lines,” she said. “When the cruise ships come in, all those people get dumped in our little town, and they go and shop.”

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