Lyn Cooperman always dreamed of having her own business. She achieved that when she opened the North Fork Craft Gallery in Wading River four years ago, one of a group of small stores attached to The Inn and Spa at East Wind.
Cooperman’s business recognizes local craftsmen by selling their work. That was always her idea — one that came from growing up with an artisan sister and attending many craft fairs.
“The shop is actually a result of 35 years of talking about doing something like this,” Cooperman, 62, said.
Cooperman’s passion for crafting partly came from experiencing her sister’s creativity and helping her sell at craft shows and wholesale shows. Combining that with her experience in retail resulted in her owning a gallery.
But her dream didn’t come to fruition until 2016. Cooperman worked in “corporate America,” as a retail manager of “big-box stores … [like] Staples and CompUSA,” which left her with no time to start her own business. Once she left the corporate world, opening a business became feasible. But starting up the shop still took some time.
“In my early 30s, I used to say, ‘All I want is a small, 500-square-foot store in a cute little town,’” she said.
A Brooklyn native, Cooperman searched for a vacant storefront there but was not satisfied. She and her husband had a weekend home on eastern Long Island, and after staying there frequently, they moved from the city to live full-time on the East End. At the time Cooperman was still working, but she was able to do so from home. Cooperman retired about a year before she took the opportunity to open her gallery at The Shoppes at East Wind.
But opening meant spending money. It cost her $40,000 and took two years to begin generating a profit. Still, Cooperman emphasized that the business “pays for itself.”
“It was a good time in my life — I had left corporate America and was really looking for a different opportunity,” she said. “If I’m going to do it, this is the place; this is the time.”
The store sells locally made hand-crafted artwork. Her stock includes plush dolls, ceramics, glasswork, woodwork and metalwork.
“You name it,” she said. “It really crosses all spectrums.”
Although Cooperman herself is not an artist, she supports local artisans by selling their products in her gallery.
“There’s so little avenues for them,” she said. With social media and craft websites, like Etsy, it’s easier for artists to market themselves today, but the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t allowed them to “showcase their work” in person as they would have been able to do at craft fairs, she added. Cooperman provides them that opportunity. Her dedication to the artists is clear, especially because she doesn’t accept artists who compete with those already in the store, she said.
Yvonne Santana, a Long Beach artist who sells at the shop, met Cooperman eight years ago at the Long Island Bead Festival before Cooperman opened her shop. She said that Cooperman is a pleasure to work with.
“She’s an inspiration,” Santana said. “She’s just one with this gift of giving and sharing.”
Santana makes jewelry and denim handbags; when the shop opened, she gave Cooperman her creations to sell. Being around Cooperman helps “to keep my creativity flowing,” Santana added.
Local ceramicist Clare Bennett also met Cooperman at a bead fair. Bennett’s works appear in the store as well.
“Lyn is very open and friendly,” Bennett said. “She’s very much up [to date] on what the market is and what people will like.”
Bennett said that the store has given artists the ability to be recognized locally.
“The only place we had to sell our stuff was craft fairs,” she said. “She opened this place up for artisans to be able to sell at a brick-and-mortar” — meaning a store instead of craft fairs. Local products in Cooperman’s store are on consignment, so she takes a cut of the profit when the items sell before the rest goes to the artist.
An important aspect of Cooperman’s store is her loyalty to Fair Trade, a movement to reduce poverty for farmers and workers in developing countries by paying them reasonable prices for their work. Her store sells only local and Fair Trade products, and Cooperman works with Fair Trade organizations to obtain the items for her shop; she categorizes the shop into those two “themes,” she said.
“It’s such a socially important thing to do to give these women in developing nations a means of support,” Cooperman said. The products they create are beautiful and inexpensive, she added.
Inside the gallery, she enjoys helping customers around and gives them information about the handcrafted pieces.
“If they pick up an item, I like to tell the story behind the item — a little bit about the artist, a little bit about how it’s made,” she said.
But the pandemic put a strain on her business. Like other small stores, her shop closed during the shutdown. Walking through her store when it was closed made her wonder about what she would do with the items if the store closed for good.
“I was closed for three months,” she said. Uncertainty seeped in as she worried about losing all she had.
“I will never make up for being closed for three months,” Cooperman said.
Despite a loss in profits, her store survived. When she opened again, she offered both online shopping and curbside pickup.
“Once I was able to reopen, I was actually very pleased that people wanted to support local business,” Cooperman said. “Business has actually improved slightly.”
Running her shop is rewarding for Cooperman because it is dedicated to her passion for helping local and Fair Trade artisans, but she is adamant that the business stands on the shoulders of craftsmen alone.
“It’s really not about me,” she said. “This would not exist if it wasn’t for the artists,” and their generosity and trust in her, she added.
The North Fork Craft Gallery connects many to overlooked artistry each day its doors are open. From Wednesday to Sunday many people drop in to support local artisans and craftsmen.