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Brick District's new jewel

Brick District's new jewel

Fulton offers Unkamen business opportunity

February 15th, 2017 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Lily Mullen, part of the design team at Creating Unkamen, begins crafting what will be a horseshoe-shaped charm. She commutes over an hour to work in Fulton, but for her it's worth it.

Photo by Helen Wilbers /Fulton Sun.

 

As soon as Karen Helmrich toured the old Blattner Building, she knew it was the perfect home for her family's jewelry supply business.

"The Brick District just oozes Etsy to me," she said.

As the businesswoman behind Creating Unkamen, the nation's fifth highest-selling Etsy store (formerly Unkamen Supplies; as ranked by craftcount.com), Helmrich should know.

Creating Unkamen will open its first brick-and-mortar location in Fulton this spring, Helmrich said. The Blattner Building, with three stories and some 13,000 square feet will also house jewelry, products from other Etsy sellers and a maker space.

Creating Unkamen's roots stretch back many years, to days when Helmrich and her then-husband were RV-ing around the U.S. with their school-aged kids, Leah and Byron. A friend of Leah's taught her how to make jewelry.

"We were a home-school family, so we turned it into a project," Helmrich said.

The project grew. Soon Leah was tracking her sales and selling increasing amounts of jewelry.

"We had trouble finding quality materials, so we learned how to make them ourselves," Helmrich said. "We realized that if we were dissatisfied with the materials available, other people might be too."

The family specialized in jump rings, which are used to make chainmail jewelry, attach charms to bracelets and a number of other functions. They also sell earring hooks, beads and more. In 2009, the family opened an Etsy store.

"Someone bought something on our first day, which was encouraging," Helmrich said. "Soon we went from selling things every week to selling things every day."

As the shop grew in popularity, the operation behind it did too. Eventually, Creating Unkamen had about 20 employees and was spread across several locations in Rolla, where the family lived.

Leah heads up the business's design team, which consists of herself, Sabri Mizener and Lily Mullen.

"Right now I'm working on a Valentine's Day present for my mom," Lily said, holding up a delicate necklace of wire hearts.

In the previous design studio space, she and the other artisans were crammed into ,the top floor of a building and bumped shoulders with industrial machinery. The roof was dangerously low.

"We called it the Hobbit Hole," Lily said.

She recalled wearing her hair in a bun so it would hurt less when she bumped it.

"Customers were like, 'when are you going to have a store? Can we come in and take classes?'" Helmrich remembered.

The store's migration from the internet to Fulton began in earnest in late November, when Helmrich came to visit her fiancee and his kids. They visited several strip mall-type properties but didn't find them appealing.

"We came down Court Street, and the first place we walked into was the Art House," Helmrich said.

One of the people there pointed out the Blattner Building was for sale. Tom Riley, president of the Art House and Brick District boards, happened to be on hand.

"Through a huge joint effort by the city, the Chamber of Commerce, the Brick District and Bruce Hackmann, we closed on the building last Friday," Helmrich said.

Core employees of the business — including Leah and Byron — followed the business to Fulton, though some still commute from Rolla. Helmrich has also hired four employees from the Fulton area. 

For the last three weeks, the building's basement — briefly a morgue at one time — has been the business's base of operations.

"You can't do this kind of work anywhere else," Mullen said. "The creativity that flows through here — the way we feed off each other when we talk about new designs and colors "

The whole family sees promise in the building. Byron is a licensed yoga instructor and personal trainer specializing in family and children's classes, and he hopes to offer classes on the third floor. So does Lily, who currently teaches swing dancing with her boyfriend at a college in Rolla.

"Swing dancing is one of my main passion hobbies," she said.

Helmrich currently has about a dozen of her Etsy friends lined up to offer their wares in the space, and plans on bringing in artists to teach classes. 

She couldn't be happier with where she's landed.

"It feels like I might run into Aunt Bee (from the 'Andy Griffith Show') on the way to the post office," Helmrich said.

 "Everyone has been so supportive."