A busy Small Business Saturday in downtown Phoenix saw an Indigenous market and some of the Valley’s best examples of handmade gifts, treats and art that countered mass-produced goods sold on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The Phoenix Flea Market was the first to open on Saturday and saw a large crowd of shoppers filling Heritage Square and the Science Park to near shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in some areas.
Spectators appeared as trendy as the vintage pieces of clothing and customized jewelry alongside illustrations and artwork of all styles and variations.
A line for $5 entry backed up into a series of food trucks and vendors set up just outside the entrance. One of them was Golden Desert Boutique, owned and operated by Taylor Norris.
Norris, along with her mom, Kellie, and sister Jessica Brander, managed the Western fashion brand that included a custom cowboy hat-making experience.
A small camping trailer brought by Norris was converted into a one-of-a-kind mini showcase of her products, alongside the “Hat Bar,” which was set up at the market and offered the chance to add flair and personal style to hats provided by Golden Desert.
“We have something for everyone,” said Norris, who came up with the idea after her love of crafting her own style inspired her to share it with others through her “Hat Bar.”
As a therapist turned full-time small-business owner, Norris found ways to adapt and compete in a competitive market, which led her to bring the “Hat Bar” concept to customers across the Valley through private bookings at events like bachelorette and birthday parties.
From feathers to colorful pieces of vintage fabric, it was all in the eye of the beholder for what a custom hat created by Norris could look like. She even had a blowtorch nearby that could be used to give the hats a rich, vintage look, or a brand with any series of metal icons like a saguaro cactus or initials.
The vendor Phoenix Lettering showed a live demonstration of a chain stitch sewing machine, a seemingly immortal piece of equipment that demonstrated small businesses need to change and adapt over the years.
Cody Castelletti, the son of Phoenix Lettering owners Sue and Jack, explained that Phoenix Lettering was one of the few companies left in the state that specializes in custom letterman jackets for high school sports teams.
In order to sustain themselves with online shopping’s strong hold on Arizona consumers, Phoenix Lettering adapted to not only selling online, but branching off to one-off or custom embroidery that features everything from Americana to pop culture references.
“My dad does all the maintenance. My mom does the majority of chain-stitched embroidery, so everything you see out here is stuff she’s done,” Cody added.
The company stayed true to itself over the years, using the same equipment that the company had in 1980, when Cody’s grandparents originally bought the company, which first opened in 1957.
It was later that Cody’s parents, Sue and Jack, bought the business, and have since like many small-business owners dedicated their lives to the craft and operation of their trade.
“The machines we all use are original to the business, they’re all like from the ’50s. That part hasn’t changed very much, but the majority of the vintage stuff that we’re showing today hasn’t changed at all, it’s kind of gotten popular again. It’s kind of fun,” said Jack as he sewed a patch onto a denim jacket.
Rachel Tomlinson smiled as she left the Phoenix Lettering booth with her freshly stitched patches and Christmas ornament that carried her beloved dog’s name, Guinness.
“I was gonna get something really similar on Etsy and I’m glad that I found them out here today,” Tomlinson said.
Appealing to the individualist, vendor Tony Garcia displayed his custom-dyed sneakers by popular shoe brands like Nike, and his tie-dye shirts that accompanied the one-off artwork that he was eager to share with customers at the market.
Garcia started customizing shoes over the pandemic after he was inspired by posts on social media that shared similar artwork, which he turned into a business after also seeing fellow artists sell.
“If you’re a small business, keep it going. One day, you’re going to make $3,000 and the next you’re going to make $3, but that’s an everyday for everybody here. It’s an uphill battle,” Garcia said.
Just north of the Phoenix Flea Market near Roosevelt Row was another market that brought Native American vendors, artists and makers to sell their work at the first “Indigenous Pop-Up Market” at the Cahokia SocialTech and Art Space.
About 10 vendors, all Indigenous Native Americans, offered their custom creative works from colorful hats, dresses and shirts to turquoise jewelry and Christmas-themed gifts.
“We’re lucky that we have an expansive network of vendors who work with us at previous events. They want to be part of the art experience that’s happening in downtown Phoenix,” said Candace Hamana, one of the three co-founders of the Cahokia space.
Hamana said she hoped the space could be used to help ease “all the barriers that exist to operate and be successful” as an Indigenous business owner.
Small Business Saturday was just another opportunity for her and Cahokia to help expand the cultural awareness of Indigenous communities and the art they shared at the event.
Luke Hunt, Valley filmmaker and vendor at the pop-up market, sold his custom embroidered denim goods that he and his grandmother made alongside with textiles like detailed hand-sewn pillows.
Hunt uses the proceeds from his business to fund his movies for his own Creative Native Productions, which is his main creative and professional endeavor.
“I made this (business) to just help survive as a filmmaker,” Hunt said. “It has definitely helped in more ways than I could even think of.”
Like Hunt, Tiffany Yazzie, a member of the Diné tribe, started her creative passion turned small business during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yazzie was at the event with one of her four children to show her work after becoming a self-taught breadmaker. Her work includes handmade beaded earrings and bracelets as well as hats that display her beaded work.
“I chose to stay home during COVID and turned to beadwork to bring in a little income for us. We’re still going strong with it,” Yazzie said.
Teresa Ami was at the event to vend her company MudHead Soap & Skincare Company, which offers all-natural products that are in part made from ingredients from Ami’s home.
A member of the Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona, Ami named her business after the mudhead kachina in honor of their culture.
Ami’s naturally harvested ingredients bring the purity and accessibility of organic products.
Ami made the skin care company her full-time job after operating it for nearly seven years, even recently hiring family members to take the company from not only a Native American woman-owned company but to a family-owned company.
“I try to harness, forge and incorporate those ingredients while also respecting our Mother Earth, doing her justice,” Ami said.
More about Small Business Saturday:How to support minority-owned businesses at these Phoenix markets