Make-It Springfield is helping transform downtown
February 21, 2019 : The Republican, by Natasha Zena
Two-and-a-half years after the Make-It Springfield pop-up shop turned into a full-fledged maker space, the idea that could is still growing with an eye on becoming sustainable.
"The last year we really focused on strategic planning. We got some seed funding to take a step back to say, 'We never planned on being around long-term,'" says Laura Masulis, MassDevelopment's Transformative Development Initiative Fellow, whose work involves making the city's downtown a destination for commerce. "And now, it looks like we're going to be. Let's make sure this organization is sustainable and that it can be around for the future."
Make-It's current home at 168 Worthington St. in downtown Springfield is "busting at the seams" in terms of physical space, according to Masulis. It is situated in the midst of the several-block area designated as the city's Transformative Development Initiative District.
Part of the long-term vision for Make-It involves hiring staff and relocating to space that can better accommodate events and workshops for artisans, their equipment and guests.
"Most (maker spaces) are in 10,000-square feet. We have 1,400-square feet," Masulis explains. "We want to have break-out rooms for coinciding programming."
A site nearby is being eyed as the new site for Make-It Springfield.
"We're planning on moving just down the block. We heard from community members how it important it was to keep the location downtown," she explains. "Part of our mission is so committed to the revitalization of the neighborhood. We wanted to stay close to where we've been but to have the opportunity to scale."
It's been quite a year for the organization. In 2018, they comprised an advisory board that Masulis meets with every other week. In June, they filed for 501c(3) nonprofit status and recently added a retail level to their membership offerings.
This new level allows artisans to sell their work at the William C. Sullivan Regional Visitor Center and the Springfield Museums via an online store. There will be a registration fee for artisans and Make-It will collect a percentage of the sales.
Make-It Springfield is working with both the visitors' center and the museums to source local products that will sell well in the gift category, according to Masulis, including "food products, jewelry, accessories, that you would see in a gift shop and then we bring on makers as retail members."
Thus, Make-It becomes the "go-between to make sure (members') inventory is in the different retail outlets and make sure they're up-to-date and make sure they can get some new attention."
For Masulis, the work at hand involves getting more people to know about Make-It Springfield and growing both members and outlets for products.
"There are so many people who still have no idea we exist, in Springfield and the surrounding community," Masulis says. "We're going to make a bigger push in 2019 to reach both potential customers and participants in workshops."
She says becoming an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and the hiring soon of its first part-time employee are significant steps for Make-It Springfield. "(The) staff person will help coordinate day-to-day operations and grow our monthly membership base," explains Masulis. "The sky is the limit."