all images photographed by:  David Plechl

Meet the Merchant: Maiden Astoria

By David Plechl --  For Coast River Business Journal

Sara Knighton and Staci Daniels shared a love of handmade craft that led them to open Maiden Astoria last summer. They now reflect on their first year in business, Astoria’s evolving downtown, and the inspiration behind their support for local artists.

What did you both do prior to opening Maiden Astoria?

SARA: I’m prior Coast Guard. I started my own screen-printing business at the Sunday Market called “Maidens of the Pacific,” so the year before I was screen-printing and selling T-shirts at the Astoria Sunday Market.

STACI: She had quite a following, too.

And Staci, what did you do before this?

STACI: I was a fashion designer in Los Angeles, for about 15 years. And I had a company down there.

How did you two meet?

STACI: We both sort of landed in Astoria at the same time, and both of us ended up taking a weaving class together. So our friendship started with that, with weaving, with textiles. We kind of both had talked about doing this, a store that would have local arts and crafts and that kind of thing. After almost two years it finally started to come together.

How did you take the ideas of what you were doing in art, design, fashion and printmaking, and then translate them into this shop?

SARA: We took everything we love from fiber to paint and just combined them.

STACI: I have to say, retail is a lot different than designing. You learn as you go and you listen to your customer. You learn about what they like, and where they’re heading in terms of merchandise, and that sort of thing. So I think we had an initial idea of where we were going in terms of product, but we’ve learned so much in the last year about what really sells and why it sells.

What are some of the things that you have here?

STACI: Well, we’ve got Sara’s screen-printing which is done in the back. I design a whole line of candles and salts and bath products. And then we have a lot of other designers, from illustrators to graphic designers, painters.

SARA: Between 30 and 40 different artists.

STACI: We sell their products every month. Most of it is under commission, but we cut checks for 30 to 40 artists every month.

SARA: For the first 8 months, we sold maybe sixty grand for local artists.

SARA: We sell a lot.

How much of it is locally made in Astoria or in the region?

SARA: About 75 percent is local, except the apparel.

Are there any stories that jump into your head about these artists that you represent?

SARA: Well we have Milk and Glue, she’s an illustrator, Kayla Johnson. She’s inspired by children’s books and also teaches at an Astoria preschool. We have Drea Rose Frost, who is a painter and fiber artist out of Seaside, who is driven by the ocean and mixed media and everything. There’s so many it’s hard to choose!

So there’s definitely a lot of artists here inspired by local scenery?

SARA: Yes!

STACI: And the culture, the Northwest culture.

How do you find your artists, or do they find you?

STACI: Kind of both. Sara checks a lot on social media, and now a lot of them come to us. We’re really lucky now. At first, we had to get them and also they had to trust us because we were new. But now it’s different. They approach us. Probably every week we get approached.

How do you feel your shop is fitting in with the Astoria downtown right now?

SARA: We’re kind of like a little miniature happy Anthropology in Astoria.

So you’re finding a welcome reception for what your selling?

STACI: We are definitely! Our main focus was to make the local customers happy. So, I think there are some stores that focus more on the people coming in from out of town on the weekends. But we wanted to make sure our price point was in line with what girls here could afford.

Any idea of how many of your customers are locals as opposed to how many are traveling through?

STACI: It might be 30-70. Thirty local. Seventy out of town.

SARA: Or locals visiting home again.

STACI: And that changes a lot. Like at Christmastime when this community was a huge support to our store. They came in and brought their Christmas gifts here. Which was really amazing.

SARA: What’s fun is locals always bring their visitors to the store. They come and support the local shops.

What’s the reaction like when people come in from out of town and realize they can buy something locally made? Do you find people exclusively looking for that?

STACI: Yeah, in fact yesterday there was a woman who came in and had Googled us just to find that. So there’s people that actually do the research before their trip and make sure to come into our store because of that.

Was there something particular about Astoria that made you feel like, ‘Yeah, this is where we want to open our shop’?

STACI: It’s... I love this place!

SARA: It’s amazing!

STACI: We are so lucky. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve traveled all over the world. This is a stunning little jewel. It really is. Especially when the sun is shining in the spring and summer. It’s amazing here. It’s a great community. It’s just big enough that maybe you haven’t met everybody, but you can’t walk down the street without saying hello to somebody you know.

Did you both kind of discover Astoria by accident?

SARA: Well, my husband is in the Coast Guard.

So you were transferred here?

SARA: Right, but when I was in the Coast Guard, I was stationed down in Tillamook, and I loved coming up to the North Coast. So I’ve just always loved this area.

STACI: I saw pictures of it. I was in Portland for just one year and I kept seeing pictures of Astoria and I kept thinking I’ve got to go check it out. I grew up in Southern Oregon and I had just never got up this far. When I got here, I kind of instantly loved it. It’s just beautiful. Forest and water together. Just the way the landscape is, it’s like a little San Francisco.

SARA: It’s the original San Francisco!

What kind of feedback do you get from customers regarding downtown Astoria businesses in general? Are the people coming in pretty excited about the clothing stores and the different options around town?

SARA: Everyone’s really excited about how Astoria is evolving and that there’s more options and people are investing in the old buildings. They can have their favorite store where they buy their records. They can have their favorite store where they buy their art, or maybe get their spices. There are a lot of options now.

Would you call it something like a creative renaissance here in Astoria?

STACI: Our customers come in a little bit shocked right now. Especially if they haven’t been here for a few years. They’re surprised at how cool this town is. I have people who have stayed in Cannon Beach. They come up for the day and say, ‘I wish I had known, I would have stayed here.’ Which is a lot different than it used to be.

Any big plans for the upcoming year? Change stuff? Grow?

STACI: We’re just excited to be in our second year. Going into the tourist season in our second year is just exciting.

SARA: We’re just looking at things year by year. Simple is better.