Photo by Asia Morris.
MADE in Long Beach seemed like it needed its own MADE in Long Beach—a more lucrative, more organized MADE—when a handful of its employees resigned and shut the doors on Friday.
The shop that provided local brands a chance to sell their wares without the cost of overhead, and thus grow unburdened, could have used a larger, coop-style space for its own goods as rent on Pine quickly increased in the years since it opened.
In their place, the employees left a hand-scrawled note reading “Closed Today. Sorry we missed you! We’re reorganizing.” Many wondered what, exactly, caused MADE to falter in such dramatic fashion.
Multiple sources in Long Beach attributed the demise of MADE’s original business model to a lack of transparency and mismanagement.
The event spurred Dave Van Patten, one of the artists whose studio is located in the building, to start putting out feelers for a new space to work, while Renee Tanner, the artist who spearheaded this migration in January, negotiated with the property manager to let the artists stay until the end of the year, at the least.
Tanner said Monday that the Studio Artists no longer have anything to do with MADE in Long Beach, and are a completely separate entity from what appeared to be an abruptly closed storefront, despite them sharing a building.
The acting COO resigned on Thursday, according to Tanner, and did not respond to the Long Beach Post for comment, while the employees called it quits on Friday.
They reportedly closed the space due to “financial problems that were upsetting and difficult to manage[...],” finding it easier to “relieve themselves of those responsibilities,” said Tanner.
In fact, the store closed the day before Tanner and the Studio Artists were slated to open for the Deep End of the Pool Artist Reception and Let the Good Times Roll Comedy event. Both events still took place, but guests were forced to enter through the alley.
Founder and CEO of MADE in Long Beach, DW Ferrell, responded in an email Tuesday, saying he’d stepped out of operations at MADE in Long Beach two months ago to prepare for the arrival of twins, who were born prematurely on Friday night, but would be stepping back in to ensure the vendors were taken care of. The venture was founded by himself and his company, Localism!, as a project back in 2014.
He missed a scheduled phone interview to discuss allegations of mismanagement and the lack of transparency, responding with an email hours later saying he couldn’t speak on behalf of the business due to him stepping out to take care of his family and to work on another Localism! project.
The Post held the story’s publication for Wednesday afternoon, allowing Ferrell more time to respond to the allegations, which he has yet to directly address. He did, however, respond with the following statement:
“When we launched MADE in 2014 Pine Avenue was lined with mostly empty storefronts, and I was willing to take a big risk to highlight the many talented local makers we have in Long Beach. At the time there were very minimal resources to support locally owned businesses, so we worked hard to fill that gap. This has really inspired the city and community partners to 'think local' and offer more support to small businesses. It has been difficult each time rent has increased since 2014, but that is also a sign of growth for the general economy. Restructuring was necessary to keep up with the market, and change was stressful for some employees. I also stepped out of management two months ago, to make room for new management and also to make more time to be present for our twin boys who were born on Friday. The new management is solid and preparing for a great holiday shopping season.”
Long Beach retail property owner Nancy Downs, who had originally been approached by Ferrell to invest $150,000 to become a partner, discussed her concerns over management of the business in an interview Tuesday.
Following the request, Downs grew reluctant to invest when Ferrell refused to show her the books. However, she later loaned him a much smaller, but significant amount of money with zero interest. She said she resented that he was late in returning the loan, though he did eventually pay her back in full—months later.
Downs also said she was forwarded an email from one of the vendors, which she read out loud, confirming that new management had indeed been running the business over the past couple of months. It was the same team that had chosen to step out on Friday once they realized the dire financial situation, which resulted in halted operations and several of the vendors coming in to collect their products.
Downs added that as a successful business person herself, she wanted to help guide MADE as a potential partner. However, Ferrell remained closed to suggestions, according to Downs.
Bouncing paychecks, using vendors’ hard earned money to pay the bills, outstanding debts and mismanagement of funds and resources have all been comments made by people closely associated with the business, pointing their fingers toward Ferrell.
“I knew he was in trouble because someone who doesn’t think they’re in trouble would have shown their financials,” said Downs. “If he had given me the financials I would have sat down with him to try to help him to figure out how to save his business, but if somebody can’t be honest with you how can you help them?”
That’s not to say MADE in Long Beach hasn’t had a productive two years on Pine Avenue, helping to foster some of the city’s most beloved small businesses and significantly contribute to a community dedicated to supporting each other’s entrepreneurial endeavors.
For one, a recent and notable success story comes in the form of handmade pie. Laurie Gray opened her first brick and mortar this year just down the street on Pine Avenue and made sure to mention in a past interview that she first tried out her business, The Pie Bar, with a Saturday pop-up shop at MADE, while her Cutie Pie Jars were sold there throughout the week.
It’s debatable whether it was strictly the rumored mismanagement of the business that led to what appeared to be quite a dramatic abandonment of its operations, or the fact that it was a small business itself, attempting to survive in a space and location much too big and expensive for it to handle, or a combination of both.
Downs told the Post that one of the reasons Ferrell gave for not being able to pay her back on time was having to handle an approximate increase of $6,000-$7,000 in rent, though she was quick to note she wasn’t sure of the exact figure.
“It's easy for everyone to paint DW as a scapegoat, but I think it's equally negative to kick a man while he's down,” said Van Patten. “Regardless of some of the financial issues associated with DW, I'm not sure if the store would have survived for the long run anyways because Pine [Avenue] is not quite ready yet for that type of boutique. That concept would have done better on Fourth Street.”
Closed since Friday, MADE in Long Beach was reopened on Tuesday by Millworks, Michelle Molina’s development company.
Molina told the Post that Millworks will be running the space from now on—a recent update that prompted at least three of the vendors to return their products and even potential vendors to inquire. According to an announcement released by Tanner about the Deep End of the Pool Exhibition, MADE in Long Beach’s new name is now MADE by Millworks. Molina has also ensured the Studio Artists will be staying.
“We’re open as usual,” Molina said. “New management and changes to come. Millworks is excited that we’re part of it. We really are. We’re going to take over the lead and we’re going to run the space.”
When asked if Ferrell would be a part of continuing operations, Molina said no and repeated, “Millworks is running the space now.”
“There is not one person in the city that does not want MADE in Long Beach to be successful,” said Tanner. “Everyone in town loves this concept, wants to get behind it, and wants to participate. I am confident that the Molina/Millworks team will pull it together and I already see that the next iteration will be a stronger model, it has a different name, but this concept is out there now and everyone wants it to succeed. I'm proud that the artists are still here and can help make that happen---and in this location.”
Molina says that this Saturday’s free Meet the Maker event will still take place from 11:00AM to 4:00PM, where many of the vendors whose products are at MADE will show off their wares to potential customers, along with other makers. All are invited.
For more information about MADE in Millworks, visit the Facebook page here.
Above, left: Photo from the MADE in Millworks Facebook page.
MADE in Millworks is located at 240 Pine Avenue.