Posted on September 14 2014
I recently made the journey home to Sioux City, Iowa and during my time there it reminded me of why I started Hammer + Awl, so I thought it was only fitting to make it the catalyst for our first blog post. Strolling through what was once the heart and soul of downtown, lined with picturesque early century storefronts and finding nearly all of them empty always makes my heart heavy. I’ve known for years what commerce (or lack of) can do for a city like the one I grew up in. Jobs went overseas, stores moved to malls, the internet is an easier place to shop, etc. All leaving what was once a thriving city center nearly vacant.
Sioux City circa 1930's - image courtesy of Valentine Road.
"Downtown Sioux City in the 1960s... 4th Street looking east. Not many downtowns in Iowa compared to it at it's height.... if you didn't find it on 4th, you didn't really need it. 5 department stores and over 140 other shops & stores in the downtown area. Over 30 restaurants & lunch counters. Glorious theaters with balconies to go and see a show." Info. and image courtesy of absolutedsm.
Picturesque Sioux City farmland.
Call it the designer in me, but I believe I started H+A out of my love of discovering the unique - whether it be a solution that just clicked or that perfect found object, and the satisfaction of bringing it to the table to share with clients or fellow teammates. I'm doing essentially the same thing with the shop, with the added pride of giving that connection to the people who actually make things themselves - right here in America. Sure, the question often gets asked, “how do people find you, being around the corner and all?” and as much as I want to answer, “well, how did you find me?”, it’s more of what I envisioned from the beginning. Folks out for a stroll, stopping in as they head for breakfast or dinner or those who heard about me from a friend and had finding me their goal. Whatever my have drawn them in, being part of neighborhood of small like-minded businesses doing their thing and being supported, only to see that all but disappear from my hometown, only fueled my drive.
It reminded me of our first buying trip for H+A, a short jaunt down I-5 to Portland. Not clicking on the web and ordering ties from an unknown supplier overseas, but face to face in a workshop with the guys at Harding and Wilson, who hand-craft bow ties in a small studio east of downtown. That same scenario played out over the next few days meeting great people from The Good Flock, Olo Fragrances among others and expanded to a collection of goods from other independent designers and crafters across the US. Companies that are creating a resurgence among small scale creation and production in America. Sure it may cost a bit more, but a bag made by Matt at Wood and Faulk or a work apron by the local guys at Hardmill is something that will last a lifetime if you want it to and will get better with each passing year.
That first buying trip solidified my vision and we set out to create what we affectionately call “crafted northwest handsome”. Durable goods, with style, with substance, with soul – all made in America. As I left Sioux City boarding the plane back to Seattle and H+A it all felt right.