Caro Wood Street
By Kate Marsden
We’re heading to North East London today to visit a lovely gallery and café in Walthamstow. Caro Wood Street is a new shop in a market which very much sounds like a destination for a day out! Read on to find out how Caroline is getting on in these early months and then plan your trip to E17 for tomorrow!
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m Caroline, an artist, baker, and owner of Caro Wood Street – Art Café in Walthamstow, London.
My gallery is filled with work by local artists, such as Emma Scutt, and including some by those I’ve found through #justacard hour. I also display my own work in watercolours and acrylics that focuses on using colour in bold ways. I bake all the cakes and sweet treats for the shop, which vary on a regular basis and always include at least one vegan option.
What does a typical day involve?
My days have a gentle rhythm that always starts with a black coffee, listening to Radio 6, and heading into my shop for 10am. Each day there runs from 10am until 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. Once I open, it’s giving everything an extra clean, setting out the cakes, updating the cake board before I chat with my fellow shop owners.
In the quiet moments between customers, I catch up with various work bits and bobs, do some watercolour paintings – some of which I later sell in my shop, and work on commissions. These range from knitting for customers, baking cakes to order, and selling small painting commissions. I enjoy doing those, as it helps to keep my skills fresh and explore different creative outlets.
I’m lucky, as I live walking distance from my shop, which helps to maximise my day. Once home I have a relaxed evening that often involves baking for the shop and some more painting.
Where do you work? What is your shop like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I have a shop in Wood Street Indoor Market, which is a delightful place that many describe as a hidden gem. There are other artists, makers, vintage clothes sellers, a costume shop, an old fashioned sweet shop, antique and retro furniture shops, record shops, places for toy collectors and a much talked about taco shop called Homies on Donkeys. The community makes it a supportive place to work, and a destination to visit.
My shop is a small art gallery with lots of work on the walls, a wide selection of cards, mugs and coasters by local designers. The furniture was all sourced from the antique sellers here, including a quirky table, Danish style teak chairs, and a kitchenette to store the china and display cakes. To add to the vintage feeling I use fine bone china, some from my family and others I’ve collected from different places. I wanted to make the shop feel warm, homely and an inviting place for contemporary art that provides both an introduction to art and a destination for art.
When I’m not working, I love spending time with my partner, painting, and reading every day curled up in bed. Books have always been a love of mine, which is why I’m now having a book club at the shop.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
There are several: people knowing you exist; lack of foot fall, as Internet shopping is easier; difficulty of bigger brands being able to sell prints very cheaply, which sometimes means having to justify and explain your prices.
In addition, many people say how much they love the layout and design of my shop, even bringing friends to visit, but have never spent a penny with me. I love the compliments, as they give me a boost but sadly they do not pay the bills. I would urge people to think about this when trying to buy gifts for others, or small items for themselves, as every penny spent with an independent business helps to keep that business alive.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I am a new business, as I only started this shop in February 2018, so my focus is to allow it to grow naturally. One way is by observing, which areas of the business thrive quicker and focus on those areas, and the ones that are closer to my main goal of providing a friendly space for art.
I would like to expand the range of artists and products for sale in the shop, and one day to have a shop out on the High Street. In turn, this would allow me to expand the range of workshops that I provide to include evening classes that focus on community building.
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
One of my main tips for other small business owners, and designer/makers is to remember the idea of ‘community over competition’. This is one of the ways that help to sustain you through any difficult moments, and helps businesses to grow. I have found that connecting with your local community of other small business owners can help since they understand the challenges of running your own business, and might have new ideas that you had not considered.
In addition, use social media as a connecting tool e.g. #justacard hour and #handmade hour on Twitter. The most important one is that there will be quiet times, where your business is not as busy as you would like, but remember to have faith in what yourself and what you’re doing as that will help you to keep going.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
I had realised that the Just A Card campaign messages uses cards as an example of a small purchase, since I’ve noticed that these little amounts add up. For me these include the card sales, hot drinks and cakes. This philosophy was one of the reasons that I added the small café into my business plan, as it helps to ensure that I always meet the rent, plus it provides a relaxed introduction into an art space by removing some of the elitism associated with art.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
The ‘Just a Card’ campaign message is so important to my business, as it helps to raise awareness that every small purchase makes a difference to helping my dream of having my own small art café stay alive.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
I heard about the campaign through Twitter and Instagram, as other artists were sharing it. I now try to participate in #justacard hour when I can, as it is a great community to share ideas and meet other artists. Through this I have met several artists and I now stock their work, such as Hatchling Makes, Louise Slater and Mel Smith Designs.
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
Have the sticker in your shop window, which is something I will do. Help raise awareness of the campaign by telling your customers, and telling other independent businesses. I try to do these as much as possible without sounding like I’m preaching to them, but letting them know I am grateful for helping to support the diversity of local business.