Roanoke Artists Market Crafts Identity As 'Gathering Spot' in Trendy Retail Corridor

Blue Ridge Indie Market opened its doors this month on an increasingly hipster stretch of Salem Avenue in Roanoke’s west downtown area.

L.S. Ackerman, owner of Blue Ridge Indie Market, says she wants the enterprise to become "not just a store, but a gathering point for the arts community, and just the progressive community in general.” PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Inside a black-walled industrial space, a Christmas tree decorated in handmade ornaments casts its twinkling lights on an eclectic array of Roanoke arts and crafts.

Wire wrapped jewelry shares the shelves with 3D-printed dragons, made out of a plant-based plastic. Yarn-knitted cacti compete for eyeballs with locally printed T-shirts.

All can be found at Blue Ridge Indie Market, which opened its doors this month on an increasingly hipster stretch of Salem Avenue in Roanoke’s west downtown area.

The funky artists market extends a commercial corridor home to relatively recent outlets including Golden Cactus Brewing, War on Books, Blade Gaming, Brickhouse Health and Fitness, and Blindhouse Beer Company.

“We’re hoping to be the home of avant-garde in Roanoke,” owner L.S. Ackerman said on a recent Friday after removing rubber cleaning gloves in the recently renovated space. “We're trying to make this not just a store, but a gathering point for the arts community, and just the progressive community in general.”

To date, 22 artists have signed up to be a part of the collective; all are female and several identify as LGBTQ or people of color, according to Ackerman.

Works range from abstract wool felt pieces by artist Maggie Tate to a realistic frog painting on wood by artist Tera Lewis.

“The vast majority of our artists have seen a tremendous amount of success so far,” Ackerman said. “Roanoke has been incredibly welcoming and the arts community has shown out in a big, big, big way.”

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Ackerman, 38, discovered Roanoke in 2022, when she and her family were seeking a more affordable place to live compared to their community in north Georgia. They bought a house on the edge of the city's Mountain View neighborhood, a short walking distance from the shop.

The roughly 2,000-square-foot storefront includes a half-dozen rooms with different spaces, including a photography studio and community room. The market recently held a Friendsgiving meal and free photos with Santa.

Also in the works is a coffee shop, though Ackerman acknowledged those plans could change depending on who she can find to run a food business inside the market.

“Maybe it'll be a bakery, maybe it'll be a tea house,” she said. “We just got to keep chugging toward the future and evolving and growing and not stagnating.”

Blue Ridge Indie Market, located at 601 Salem Ave. SW, opened this month. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

General Manager Natalie Ashton said business has been picking up since the market’s soft launch in late November.

“In the beginning, it's been a lot of people who have personal connections with each of the artists, but I'm starting to see that circle grow further out,” Ashton said.

Ashton is one of the artists herself. Her studio in the back was thrumming recently with the sound of 3D printers. One was finishing a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of the Mill Mountain Star. Ashton uses a bioplastic made of corn and sugarcane detritus.

Ashton met Ackerman at a pop-up makers market at Golden Cactus, where Ashton was selling her 3D-printed dragons. They struck up a conversation about the idea of a dedicated artists market.

“We started talking about these two dreams we had and realizing that they were the exact same dream,” Ashton said.

General Manager Natalie Ashton (left) and owner L.S. Ackerman (right) met at a makers market outside Golden Cactus Brewing and realized they shared the same dream of opening a permanent space for artists. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Artists and vendors rent space by the square foot, and the market takes a 20 percent commission. The business has reached a profit, according to Ackerman.

“So we're incredibly motivated to only bring in artists who we think are going to be a good fit, who are going to sell well, because if I can't sell their stuff, nobody's going to be happy,” Ackerman said. “Our little niche is definitely the different, the unique, the not-well-represented by other galleries.”

Whimsical features include the market’s mascot — a western painted turtle named Who — and free tiny 3D-printed possums with every weekend purchase. (“Where else are you going to get a pocket possum?” Ackerman mused.)

Though all arts and crafts are locally made by Roanoke-based creators, other vendors add to the mix. One sells crystals and rocks and another has a table with comic books, dolls and a jar of marbles ($50). Rainy Day Reads, a pop-up bookstore focused on diverse children’s books, turned a short hallway into a sanctuary of rain-drop audio and rainbow umbrellas.

“They specialize in progressive children's books,” Ackerman said on a tour. “So we have lots and lots of titles that would make certain schools irritated.”

Katelyn Law has her own room in the market, where mannequins in corsages and gowns peer out windows to the rest of the space.

By day, Law works at a factory in Franklin County. But her passion is designing and sewing costumes, specializing in “fashion influenced by history,” through her business Wickedly Stitched by Kate. She makes a lot of outfits for cosplay and counts a half dozen clients who work as drag queens at The Park nightclub, which is next door.

Law also does alterations, and said she has gotten a lot more work since opening her space.

“I feel like L.S. and Natalie are really pushing all of us to do better, and it means a lot to me because this is my first brick and mortar,” Law said. “I’ve teared up a couple times from finally having the shop. I’m like, ‘I’m achieving my dream.’ I’ve wanted this since I was, like, a child.”

Ackerman said her “number one concern” with the business — which shares a building with Sunnyside Awning Company — is the “extraordinarily high failure rate” in that particular location.

“We're going to try to turn that around and not be part of the failure of the rotating cast of tenants,” she said. “So I'm hoping that we can keep up the momentum that we've built up so far, and carry that into the future with us.”

Blue Ridge Indie Market, located at 601 Salem Ave. SW, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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