October 21, 2015
The newest addition to the downtown retail scene is Agency, located at 1519 Pacific Avenue. Agency is the second business by Linnaea Holgers James and Peter James who also own downtown retail cornerstone, Artisans Gallery. Where the focus of the Artisans Gallery has always been handmade products made in the United States, Agency is built around more curated pieces and collections.
The name of the store, tips its hat to the former tenants of the space, a travel agency. What was an office space, has been transformed into a bright open store and the fresh colors, the warmth, and the truly beautiful items on display draw you right in.
We sat down with Linnaea, Peter, and 10-month-old son Olaf to chat about their newest adventure in retail.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Linnaea: I am the Owner of the Artisan Gallery. I owned Artisans before Peter and I were married, but he has been really instrumental in helping to bring the whole thing to the next level. And, together we decided we were ready to try another store.
Peter: The focus of Artisans Gallery has always been that everything is made in America and everything is handmade, and we never wanted to change too much about that. We wanted another store where we could have things that might not necessarily be handmade, but that we have chosen specifically because we really like them.
Why did you choose to open a retail business in Santa Cruz? First Artisans and now Agency….
L: I actually started working at Artisans Gallery when I was 16, and I purchased the business from the previous owners when I turned 32. I spent half of my life in retail, so retail is what I know. I also studied Art History at UCSC, and was interested in museum work and interior design. I felt like retail gave me the opportunity to combine all of those passions – you get to make these little curated vignettes and collections but at a much faster pace. I came to find out that the attention span necessary for the longer project style of interior design or museum work didn’t mesh well with my personality. I am more of a "let’s-do-it-now-and-move-onto-the-next-thing" kind of person, which caters well to being in retail. I also discovered that retail is really what I liked.
What would you say is the style of the store and how do you decide which products to sell?
L: It is a little bit of everything. I am used to going to shows and meeting with people who make the products, which has also been the business model at Artisans. But with Agency, the approach is a little different because we aren’t necessarily having all handmade, but it turns out that about 70% of the store is handmade and made in the USA.
P: A lot of it ends up being made in the US anyway without us even having that as a focus.
L: We were just talking about how all of the furniture is made on the west coast.
P: And we’ve always wanted to go with the “west coast” style. We are working on further developing what that style is and how to present it because it can be a lot of different things. You look out the window and it is so obviously Santa Cruz; there is that distinct California feeling that you just can’t escape, so we just go with it.
L: For example, we are currently featuring furniture by Daniel Wenger, a west coast artist and local legend.
P: These pieces are really amazing to have because he created these designs in the late 1960s in southern California, and then manufactured only a couple hundred pieces after moving up here to Santa Cruz. These chairs have become really sought after pieces, because not only are they a great design, but they are also beautifully made. Daniel Wenger and his son have since teamed up to start making them again right here in Santa Cruz. Being able to feature these chairs is also a great opportunity for us because only three or four stores in the world sell them. We have met the designer and have built a relationship with him….
L: …so we get to be one of those stores!
Why did you Choose Santa Cruz as a place to live and work?
L: I was born and raised here, this has always been home. Having grown up here I have really fond memories of being downtown as a kid, so buying Artisans and now opening Agency are two of the things I felt compelled to do to keep making Santa Cruz a nice place to be and downtown a great place to spend time.
I also did a lot of traveling when I was young, and it felt great to go off and see so many new places, but I always felt very lucky to get to come back to here and have Santa Cruz as my home base. We also have our family and friends here, and we get to live in this beautiful location.
P: For me, my kids were born here and have roots here, and Linnaea has roots here too. It would be silly to try to move anywhere else, because you could never create what Santa Cruz has – even if you brought everyone with you. I came to Santa Cruz as a young person from Michigan, and this part of California is just amazing. It is especially striking when you come here from somewhere else. I see people here, experiencing it for the first time, pretty much getting their minds blown by everything.
What’s your relationship to the Downtown Business Community?
L: I was the previous President of the Downtown Association (DTA) and just termed out on the board. I have been actively involved in the community down here for years. I am also part of a group of ladies in retail that get together to collaborate and share ideas and advice. We are planning to do some marketing things together.
Did you work with the City of Santa Cruz to get Agency up and running?
L: We did and it was a very smooth process. Olaf and I went to City Hall to do our necessary paperwork, and one lady even held Olaf for me while I filled out the papers. All in all, things went pretty smoothly.
Any advice for someone looking to start a business in Santa Cruz?
L: The SBDC (Small Business Development Center). I feel like the advisors there are really helpful, and they genuinely want to see you succeed. It is huge to have someone to talk to one-on-one and to bounce your ideas off of. I worked with them when I purchased Artisans, to refine my open-buy system over the years, to create the business plan for Agency, and they even helped facilitate our loan at Lighthouse Bank. They do it all, and they were with us through all the different stages of the process.
What’s next for Agency and Artisans Gallery?
L: This is probably going to tide us over for a little bit. We want to develop more of our own brand products for either store. At Artisan’s I have a line of jewelry boxes, The Lion in the Box, that Peter and I designed together and sell in stores throughout the country. And Peter has his line of furniture: Telegenic California, which are beautiful pieces made of stacked plywood.
To learn more about Agency, visit: shopagencyhome.com