On one wall of Anthology’s new State Street store is a giant wooden pegboard fashioned in the shape of the Badger State.
It’s a fitting symbol for the store, owned by sisters Sachi and Laura Komai. The 10-year-old business, which has more than tripled its space in its new location at 230 State St., is a mecca for handmade creations by local artists, many with Madison and Wisconsin themes.
The pegboard, created by a friend who teaches woodshop at Madison East High School, is also a reminder of the pair’s commitment to the community. The Komais also work with a local screenprinting business to produce some of their merchandise, display their wares on furniture from the UW Swap Shop and teach local crafting workshops at the library.
Displayed on the Wisconsin pegboard are tote bags, tea towels and onesies in the front section of the store, which is devoted to Badger-focused items. It’s turned into a large, and unexpected, part of their business.
“That’s definitely something we’ve grown into,” said Laura Komai. “That’s a category we now have the room to expand.”
The Komais were also ready to expand the business as a whole. After a decade at 218 State St., the sisters began to reflect on what would come next for their shop. They didn’t have any basement storage there, so every cabinet and drawer was used to stash extra inventory. They needed more space and started looking at other locations.
“Every square foot of space was doing double duty, if not quadruple,” Laura Komai said. After watching customers walk by and observe the store was too crowded with people to enter, the sisters realized that expanding “was something we really needed to do.”
The empty Fanny Garver Gallery space was one that Laura had eyed, but initially thought it was “out of reach.” Anthology had its soft opening on Sept. 24 and will host its grand opening on Gallery Night on Friday.
The larger location also has an upstairs loft that the sisters have designed as a craft bar for customers to drop in and do projects for a small fee ($5-$10). That had been an initial goal of Anthology when it opened, but the small space made it challenging to execute.
Sachi Komai also hopes to bring different groups of people together at these events. She’s thought about hosting international students, people new to Madison and crafting newbies and singles.
The shop has also expanded its section of decorative paper, stationery and journals.
“You would think in the digital age, people wouldn’t need paper anymore,” Sachi Komai said. But their customers have shown otherwise. She herself sketches all of her ideas for the store and her own wholesale line in a pocket notebook.
“Everywhere Sachi goes, she has her little notebook with her,” Laura Komai said.
That wholesale business has also grown in the last decade. Sachi Komai began designing her own line of Wisconsin-themed greeting cards, and has expanded that to include stickers and magnets, among other items. Anthology’s best-selling item is a onesie Sachi designed with the words “Lil cheese curd.”
Her work is now sold in shops in Eau Claire, Monona, Appleton, Milwaukee and La Crosse.
Anthology’s success comes at a time when other businesses have pointed to online retailers cutting into their bottom line. But the Komais said their local focus has been a boon. “Our experience doesn’t bear that out.”
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about downtown retail, Sachi Komai said, mentioning the new owners of A Room of One’s Own Bookstore and the Soap Opera. And hipster glasses retailer Warby Parker, which began as an online-only business, is opening a shop on State Street.
“Brick and mortar retail is an experience. Shopping is entertainment. It’s very social,” Laura Komai said, noting how shoppers will spend an afternoon on State Street with their friends. “We all have this need to be with people in interesting spaces and I don’t think that’s going away.”