Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

How a St. Paul creative entrepreneur makes it work

furniture store on selby avenue
In a nondescript garage on Selby Avenue in St. Paul is Gary Moore Custom Furniture.
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In a nondescript garage on Selby Avenue in St. Paul is Gary Moore Custom Furniture.

Walk inside and the space, which is shared with another maker, is surprisingly large. There are plenty of machinery, tools, wood, and sawdust.

MPR News’ senior economics contributor Chris Farrell has been highlighting different entrepreneurs and small businesses for Minnesota Now, and he recently visited the workspace to learn more about the business.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

EMILY BRIGHT: In a nondescript garage, from the outside at least, on Selby Avenue in St. Paul, is Gary Moore Custom Furniture. Walk inside, and the space, which is shared with another maker, is surprisingly large. There's plenty of machinery, tools, wood, sawdust, of course.

NPR senior economics contributor Chris Farrell has been highlighting different entrepreneurs and small businesses for Minnesota Now, and he recently visited the workspace to learn more about the business. Hey, Chris. Thanks for joining us.

CHRIS FARRELL: Thank you for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: So what drew you to this place?

CHRIS FARRELL: Well, Emily, I'm just fascinated by anyone who manages to make a living in a creative enterprise, and there's nothing easy about being an entrepreneur, and then being an entrepreneur in the craft and artisan ecosystem. But more and more people are figuring out how to do it.

So brief background to the story, so Gary Moore is British, and for some 20 years, he worked in the printing industry. But he loved working with wood, so at age 37, he made that change in careers. He apprenticed himself to a couple of furniture makers in Britain, and he went to design school. And then in 2011, he moved to St. Paul with his Minnesotan wife Carrie and their child and set up shop in their-- on Selby Avenue, which is near their neighborhood. And one of the things I wanted to learn is, so what are you working on now?

GARY MOORE: I am finishing up a cabinet for a customer. It's just a China hutch kind of deal, but she saw a design that I'd made for another customer a few years back, so we're just making a version of that in a different color for her. So just finishing that up. I'm making a countertop. In between that, just waffles, pot stands, and all sorts of things, really.

EMILY BRIGHT: So big and small projects, different price points. Does Gary work in a particular style?

CHRIS FARRELL: Well, he seems pretty eclectic, and from our conversation and then looking around the shop, all kinds of things are there. And he likes working with different materials and sustainability, and sustainability ethics' really important to him. But of course, I had to know. I mean, does he have a favorite style of furniture?

GARY MOORE: I really like early modernism, and a lot of it wasn't really using wood anyway, a lot of metal and stuff. But I really liked what was happening in that period. It was really innovative and interesting, and that's really why I got into making furniture. I couldn't find stuff I liked anywhere, and also was inspired by lots of things that I did like that I couldn't afford. So I started making, and I don't know, I-- it feels very natural to me to make stuff.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, I always love to hear about the work of creative people, but I'm curious what drew you to this story?

CHRIS FARRELL: So, Emily, there's been this major change in our economy in recent decades, and it's led to the rise of a new generation of craftspeople and artisans. And the creative economy has moved from the tributaries of our society into the mainstream. And look, there's no question, making a living in a bespoke business, that's hard to do, but more and more small business owners are figuring out how to do it. You go up to Duluth, Frost River, Alamar Cheese, which is here locally, craft beer, artisan spirits.

And the other thing is that this craft economy, it's a major factor behind the recent revival in entrepreneurship. Growing number of customers, they're looking for something that's made with skill. They're looking for something that's local. They want something that has the sustainability ethic. And so one of the questions, and one of the reasons why I went in the studio, is I wondered, is Gary part of a larger creative community?

GARY MOORE: Yeah, we know plenty of other people in this line of work, and other creative enterprises, for sure. It does feel like a movement. People do seem to want something made by someone they can talk to, made in this country, made even more locally. That seems important to people.

EMILY BRIGHT: So who are his customers?

CHRIS FARRELL: So some of his customers-- well, have you been to Jay Selby, the vegan restaurant? So if you look at that furniture there. He's also made furniture for Metronome Brewery.


CHRIS FARRELL: Sure. But a lot of the business comes from neighbors, referrals, word of mouth, custom furniture, and then his wife Carrie. She has a full time job with Blue Cross Blue Shield, but she also takes care of the business side of the furniture business. And here's how she describes her job.

CARRIE MOORE: Oh, my role is back office, so I just do paying the bills and doing some of the marketing and figuring out if we're going to be in a show, or what that's going to look like.

EMILY BRIGHT: Is Gary making anything he's particularly excited about right now?

CHRIS FARRELL: Well, I think, like a lot of people, we get very excited when someone is excited about something, and right now, he's excited about snare drums. By the way, I did not see this one coming at all. And he started playing the drums, and he didn't think his skill level justified buying a better set of snare drums. So why not make them? And so I asked him, how do you learn to make snare drums?

GARY MOORE: Well, I started on YouTube, looking at videos, and tried those methods. And it wasn't working really that well, so I spent a bunch of time figuring out how I wanted to do it. And then just built a machine, trial and error really, and it works really well. And then I just kept improving and improving, and now, it works really well, yeah.

So that was fun. I really liked that, but no one's paying me to do that, which is a problem. I mean, I might sell some drums in the end, but yeah, there's a lot of time where you're doing that, developing new ideas. I like to develop a new thing every so often, just to keep my brain ticking over, and also, just to keep stretching myself.

EMILY BRIGHT: I love that idea. I'm good with wood. Snare drums are made of wood. I can figure this out. Are you going to get into woodworking now, Chris?

CHRIS FARRELL: No, you wouldn't want to sit on a piece of furniture that I made, believe me. But in the moment that's left to us, I just want to highlight another aspect of entrepreneurship that I think is often underestimated-- the generational transfer of knowledge from one generation to the other. So their son, he's 11, and he's learned from his parents about the basics of paying for supplies. He knows that sales isn't the same thing as profit. So he started his own business making and selling bath bombs and bath salts.


CARRIE MOORE: He's the youngest vendor at Grand Old Day. But otherwise, in the winter, we have an open house here at the wood shop, and he sells them here, and then to any of his friends at school and things who are interested in.

CHRIS FARRELL: So I have a feeling, I don't know, years from now on Minnesota Now, we'll be having a conversation about whatever enterprise or business their son has started.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, what a great model when his parents are doing it. So, Chris, thank you for your time.


EMILY BRIGHT: Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor at Minnesota Public Radio.

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