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Pop-up gift shop nurses new vision for Dundalk

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Amid a red-brick sea of commercial offices, chain businesses and small eateries, a new seasonal shop has popped up in the main-street area of Dundalk, featuring work by local artisans, photographers and other vendors.

The Holiday Gallery and Gifts Pop-Up Shop opened Oct. 11 in the Dundalk Village shopping center as a kind of community revitalization effort, birthed through a partnership among Blue Ocean Realty, the Dundalk Renaissance Corp. and a group of area crafters led by local business owner Laura Quintana.

The shop operates in a space donated by the realty company for three months free of rent, and charges vendors a flat gallery fee of $200 or $300 to have their products put up for sale as long as the shop remains open, with no additional commission fee.

The project aims to provide consumers with a variety of locally produced gift and art options for the holiday season, according to Leah Bunck, community projects coordinator for Dundalk Renaissance. The items for sale, which range in price from a few dollars to about $180, include homemade wreaths, candles, jewelry, doll clothes and art from local photographers.

"We want to bring Main Street back as a center for the arts," said Quintana, who sells jewelry from her online business at the shop.

The goal, she said, is to make Dundalk a destination for the arts by revitalizing the main street area. She hopes the shop will work to attract other local shops, boutiques and cafes, and draw people from outside the town into the area.

The shop provides local artisans with a rare opportunity, too.

For small-item vendors like Erin Long, the gallery buys free regular exposure for their merchandise.

Long works as a marketing coordinator at the Humane Society of Harford County and makes "scherenschnitte," a type of German paper-cutting art, in her free time.

She never tried selling her craft before the Holiday Gallery and Gifts shop opened in Dundalk, where she lives.

"Up until now, I just kind of did it for myself," Long said. "I've always … wanted to get it out there a little bit more, and so when I heard about the pop-up shop it just seemed like a fit — like … a good place to maybe try it and see how the public likes it."

Quintana, who moved to Dundalk from the Washington area with her husband almost eight years ago, has run her online jewelry business, Little Crystal Bijoux, for more than a year. A regular at DRC-sponsored community events, Quintana started talking to Bunck over the summer about her desire to move her business into a real retail space.

But Dundalk is no arts district. Shops like the one Quintana had been envisioning are not thriving there.

Longtime Dundalk residents can remember when the town's main street area offered a variety of things to do and places to shop. Today, the only retail-type businesses to be found in the Dundalk Village shopping center are Rite Aid, Cricket Wireless and Family Dollar, which resides in the corner lot where the historic Strand movie theater once stood.

"The Dundalk area has a reputation that maybe isn't true to what it's really like here," Bunck said. "People ... don't necessarily know that Dundalk has all these great local artists and vendors and people who care about the community."

Bunck had heard of other communities opening pop-up shops for 24 hours or a few days, the more typical time frame, usually during festivals or holiday events. She thought a similar, less temporary model could work for Dundalk, and that Quintana would be a perfect partner for the project.

Bunck called Quintana the backbone of the group endeavor. The jewelry maker runs the shop Wednesday through Sunday, earning only commission from the pieces she sells, the same as the other vendors.

The shop provides Quintana with a chance to form relationships with other vendors and to test the waters for turning her online business into one with a physical space. But just as important to her is the chance that the shop provides Dundalk.

If the project takes off, Quintana would like to see the pop-up shop become a biannual event, open around the holidays and again in the spring or summer.

Others involved share the belief that the project could start something with the potential to shift Dundalk's reputation. Long's hope is that the pop-up shop will mark the beginning of a "rebirth" for the town.

And Bunck said she hopes it will expose both visitors and residents to the things that already make Dundalk a special place to live.

"I think we definitely have the pieces [to] have that kind of rich art culture that maybe is already here and just needs an outlet," she said. "I'm hoping that this will bring people down … to support our local entrepreneurs, artists and vendors, and kind of see, 'Oh there's hope for the shopping center, and there's hope that this place could really be something.'"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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