On the bustling College Avenue in Berkeley sits Collector Gallery. The shop's walls are lined with original artwork from local talent, and the shop is packed full of jewelry, art prints, ceramics, home goods, and every gift imaginable, mostly from local makers. It is one of the premier galleries and handmade shops in the Bay Area, and many members of the CBL are fortunate enough to have their products carried there. Skye and Christina are two of the most hardworking and sweetest shop owners around, so we are thrilled they could take a moment to answer some of our questions during this busy holiday season!
Why did you decide to open Collector Gallery?
We were both at turning points in our careers and wanted to make a change. We had an opportunity to try something new and we didn’t want to miss the chance! The idea for Collector evolved out of multiple dinner conversations. We had been going to Open Studio events for years, and we felt there was a missing niche waiting for a storefront selling affordable, original art. We wanted to create a carefully curated selection that focused on local artists, but also on independent makers from around the country. We wanted to be able to connect with the community both in supporting local artists and also providing an alternative shopping experience for our customers.
What were you doing before opening Collector?
Skye had been working for several years at an emergency veterinary technician. Although she cared deeply for the animals she saw every day, the trauma of emergency care was taking a toll. Christina worked for 15 years in nonprofit management and executive coaching. After having her son, she decided not to return to the 8-5 BART-to-the-city lifestyle.
This year, Collector opened a sweet little storefront in San Francisco International Airport. Tell us a little more about how you got that great opportunity, and any challenges with being in such a different environment from your original storefront in Berkeley.
The airport put out a request for proposals in July 2013. Someone dropped a flyer off at our Berkeley store and encouraged us to submit! We crafted a proposal and were selected to be one of the first in the airport’s 5-year pop-up retail program. After we close in March 2015, another small local business will take over the storefront.
It’s a challenge to do business at the airport. There are many hurdles – from having every piece of inventory wheeled through security to mandated 16-hour days. Staff has to be badged by TSA, at $300 per person. And no one wants to work at the airport! Staffing has been a major challenge. Being there, we’ve realized why you see so many large corporations in airport spaces – they have the money and resources to more easily overcome the hurdles.
Despite these obstacles, it’s been a tremendous learning experience for us. We’ve been able to grow and take more risks. Operating in two locations has also forced us to streamline and improve our internal policies and procedures.
What are your favorite places to eat, drink, and shop around the Berkeley location?
We frequent Summer Kitchen for lunch, just a couple of doors down from us. They exemplify organic farm-to-table food with a friendly take-out sensibility. Right next door is Ici, one of the best ice cream shops in the Bay Area and totally worth a trip. When we tell people where we are located, we tend to just say “next door to Ici.” We love Vintage Berkeley, the locally-owned wine shop across the street. We buy our office products from Elmwood Stationers, and find that almost everything we need can be found within two blocks of our shop! We both have sons that love to find new books at Mrs. Dalloway’s, and the best latte in the neighborhood can be found at Elmwood Café.
What has been the most rewarding part of running your own business?
We are really different people and get different rewards the process. Christina loves problem-solving and multi-tasking, and thrives on getting to be HR, IT, operations, etc. depending on the day. Skye tends to connect strongly with the customers and really treasures helping someone find the right item to purchase. We both love getting to tell artists about sales!
How do you find new artists to feature in your shop and gallery shows?
Most new artists come to us by way of referrals from existing/previous artists. Many artists rotate through over the course of a couple of months, and they all have their own networks. For example, after our monthly artist receptions we typically receive a flurry of submissions from artist’s friends who came out to see the show. We also try to attend Renegade and other events that showcase artists and makers. Our model isn’t the right fit for everyone, so we try to be transparent and provide as much information as possible at the outset. We put our submission guidelines on our website and hand out informational flyers to everyone who inquires.
Do you have any special events this holiday season?
Our neighborhood does “Third Thursday” events, so we always have something planned for those days, in addition to our monthly artist receptions (always on the second Friday). On October 16 we celebrated our three-year anniversary in Berkeley with a trunk show and artist talk, and that event inspired us to try more talks and demonstrations. We’re hosting East Bay printmaker Rich Fowler of Boarding All Rows on December 18- he’ll be bringing a small press for customers to pull their own small print with a holiday theme.
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Skye and Christina!
Collector Gallery - Berkeley shop:
Monday-Thursday • 10 a.m to 7 p.m.
Friday-Saturday • 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday • 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2950 College Avenue • Berkeley, CA 94705 • 510-647-9355
Collector Gallery - SFO shop:
Every day • 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Terminal 3, Boarding Area E.