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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Steph Davies has learned a lot about owning a business - and life - in the past two years.

Waxwing owner reflects on two years in business and new motherhood


It has been almost two years since Steph Davies opened The Waxwing, 4415 N. Oakland Ave. The small, super stocked gift shop / boutique offers the creations of 100 local artists, including work by Davies.

To celebrate two years of business, The Waxwing will host an anniversary party on Friday, March 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will feature snacks, drinks, new artwork and live music by The Thirftones, featuring Davies' husband, Matthew.

Since opening The Waxwing, Davies has learned a lot about art, running a business and parenting.

"I think in the beginning I was eager to let anyone and everyone be in the space and over the last year or so I would say we've found our voice," says Davies. "Experience and time has shown what items are successful and which ones are not. I guess you could say we've grown into our space."

The Waxwing has expanded – not in square footage but with the number of artists who consign their work. When the boutique opened, The Waxwing represented 65 artists and today, it's more than 100.

Last fall, Davies had a daughter, Remi. Juggling business and motherhood has definitely been a learning experience.

"Initially my whole world changed – everyone tells you this happens but you can't really imagine it until you hold that child for the first time – and with that change, I was a little nervous at first, wondering if there was enough of me to go around, to be a good mom and a good business owner," says Davies.

Over time and through finding the right people to help her at the shop, Davies says she has managed to merge her worlds and develop a new way of working. Before Remi was born she would stay at the shop some nights until midnight or later and would create art and jewelry at "odd hours."

"Today, things are different. My time and energy are centered around my daughter's needs so I'm out the door 15 minutes after we close and I try to put the work on the shelf while I'm home," she says. "I'm still waiting to see how I change as an artist as I haven't created a lot of new work in the last six months."

The Waxwing has a large selection of handmade items, including pottery, jewelry, original artwork, T-shirts that showcase Milwaukee pride, baby clothes and accessories, journals, stationery, soaps and more.

"I'm really proud of our print selection which ranges from digital to screen print to woodcuts," says Davies.

One of her missions over the past two years has been to find items that appeal to men.

"I think when we opened we really didn't offer a lot for a male audience but now we have beer soap, pint glasses, men's t-shirts, hats, hand-etched leather flasks," she says.

And now, with two years under her belt, Davies looks to the future with a few goals in mind.

"I'd like the shop to find more ways to give back to the community," says Davies. "I'd like to continue to find new artists to work with and build relationships with and help support others who are working hard to expand the artist community in Milwaukee."

Wasting no time, Davies already started to reach out to the community. This month, she picked three different local women, all fighting brain tumors, and donated 10 percent of sales one weekend to help with their medical costs.

"I'm frustrated that this hadn't occurred to me earlier, but am excited to make it an annual thing in the future," says Davies. "It's nice when the shop allows me to give in ways that I maybe wouldn't be able to as an individual."

The most challenging aspect of business ownership for Davies has been stepping back and letting other people help her run the shop after the birth of her daughter.

"I was at the shop every day we were open handling everything personally," she says. "I had to step back and readjust how involved I was when I had Remi, but I'm lucky to have found such amazing women to bring their energy into the space and make it their own."

Despite the challenges, the pay off has been great. Most of all, seeing the business grow has been incredibly rewarding for Davies.

"More and more people come in and say they heard about the shop from a friend or an article or an artist and I feel like this is something worth doing and worth keeping alive," says Davies.

Although Davies says The Waxwing could use more room, she has no plans to leave her space at this point because she finds Shorewood to be a great fit and she has a good working relationship with her landlord, Nat Danauer, who is opening Craft & Vessel on the same block this summer.

"In many ways we've outgrown our space and could use more room, but we're working with local artist Doug Koepsel – who also handmade our sign out front – to build custom shelving and displays in the store so that we can build certain items into our space and really give specific pieces a home in the store that makes sense and displays each item to the best of our ability," she says.

Davies grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri and then moved to Chicago when she was 18 to study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduating, she met her husband, who grew up in Waukesha, and they moved to Milwaukee in 2008.

"It was tough for me to leave behind the community of artists and musicians that had become like a family to me in Chicago, but starting The Waxwing has helped me find my place here in Milwaukee and it feels a little more like home with each passing season," she says.


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