By Jan Mercker
For years, Veronika Amaya dreamed of a permanent space where local makers and crafters could sell their products.
Last year, she made that dream a reality at Dulles Town Center. Her business, Handmade by LMAC (Local Makers, Artists, and Crafters), is part of a new wave of small businesses opening at the mall as pandemic restrictions end and shoppers return.
Amaya opened Handmade by LMAC last June with a handful of fellow makers. Since then, the shop has expanded as foot traffic returns to the mall, now featuring work from more than 60 crafters. And Amaya is part of a mini revival of sorts at the mall.
“We’re makers–we also deserve a little retail space to exhibit our work and get feedback from clients,” Amaya said. “I always told myself when I get a store, it will be for all makers, whether they have one product or tons of products.”
Amaya is a longtime maker who specializes in wooden decor for children. Like many crafters, she spent years on the farmers market and festival circuits. But she always wanted a full-time retail outlet for her products.
“I kept getting doors closed on me because my inventory wasn’t high enough,” Amaya said.
So, she decided to do it on her own.
Amaya lives in Springfield but was looking for space near her studio in Reston. She scored a lease at Dulles Town Center last year. The mall’s future has been the subject of speculation since the closing of anchor stores Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor before the pandemic, the sale of the property in 2020 and the shuttering of its Sears store in 2021.
As large anchors shut down, the mall is seeing an influx of small and independent retailers, often on customized and short-term lease agreements, said Kimberly Mazhari, marketing director for Centennial, which took over management of the mall late in 2020.
“The rules have changed,” Mazhari said.
Since Centennial’s takeover more than a year ago, the buzz has been about a potential large-scale redevelopment of the property. And while Centennial is mum on redevelopment plans for now, it is focused on bringing creative new businesses into the existing space. The mall has brought in more than a dozen new retailers in the past year and is planning new additions in coming months, including a Middle Eastern concept restaurant, a spa and a local company focused on CBD and hemp products. And Mazhari said Handmade by LMAC is the kind of business they’re trying to attract:
“She brings so many unique pieces of merchandise. … She really fills a void.”
Amaya said foot traffic has been picking up, her business is growing and she’s optimistic. Every week she gets a steady stream of new customers who say they haven’t set foot in the mall in two years.
“We’re still here,” she said. “It’s getting better.”
Amaya now has 52 makers from around the DMV, including 24 from Loudoun. Among those are Sterling-based Linda Moeser Ceramics, Purcellville-based quilter Beverly McDonald of Your Life In Stitches, painted glass by Sterling artist Sandra Luciano and handmade candles from Leesburg’s Rustic Slate Candle Company. Amaya also works with 10 out-of-state makers.
Amaya is finalizing a partnership with the ECHO nonprofit, which provides employment opportunities and support to individuals with disabilities. LMAC is slated to become an outlet for ECHO’s Blue Elegance line of jewelry handmade by ECHO participants who are paid for their work. Blue Elegance is planning to launch a line of handcrafted candles later this year.
“These are great quality products, and we’re excited to bring them to the market,” said Todd Goldian, ECHO’s director of community outreach and fundraising.
Amaya, who has a background in graphic design, launched her own maker business Bon Bon Decor 15 years ago. When her friends started getting married and having babies, she wanted unique gifts and began making personalized wooden door hangers. She has since expanded to picture frames, memorabilia boxes, home decor, wall decor for nurseries and customized textiles. Amaya continues to operate Bon Bon Decor with help from her mom. But she says for now, her main focus is on creating retail opportunities for other crafters and making Handmade by LMAC a success. Amaya runs the store with two employees so her makers can focus on doing what they do best.
“They get exposure to the public of their products seven days a week, nine hours per day and they don’t have to be there,” Amaya said.
Amaya also uses her graphic design background to support her makers with feedback on packaging and marketing.
“As makers, we focus on our product and create the product but we’re sometimes lacking on the creativity of the packaging,” she said.
Amaya includes photos and profiles of each maker in the shop and works to bring in fresh products regularly. The shop is already building a clientele of regulars who come in every few weeks to check out new products. They’re also now seeing more out-of-towners passing through Dulles Airport and Amaya is building an e-commerce website to facilitate shipping.
She said holidays are always a busy time. Easter items are rolling in, and March has seen a big bump as wedding season kicks off, with couples seeking out unique gifts for attendants and guests.
“Our goal is to collectively promote talented local individuals who create amazing products to a larger audience, Amaya said. “There’s always something new in the store.”
Handmade by LMAC at Dulles Town Center is open 12 pm-9 pm Monday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, check out @handmade_by_lmac on Instagram.