Creating a new vision for Washington Avenue in Albert Lea

Published 12:09 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Plans call for an artisan market, makerspace

An Albert Lea husband and wife, in collaboration with other entities in the community, are seeking to bring a block on Washington Avenue back to life while also strengthening the area’s artisans and entrepreneurs and growing retail opportunities for residents.

After working on the projects for the last few years, Nic and Sarah Lang want to share their vision this weekend during open houses.

The first is for what they’ve called BRICK + MORTAR Market, which will open in June at 218 S. Washington Ave. and will feature juried artisan, handmade products that are made locally or by other artisans in the state or neighboring states.

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The Langs purchased the building in 2019 and have extensively remodeled it. It will house the market on the main level of the building, along with a space for classes and workshops. Their own living space is planned for the upper floor.

Nic Lang said he learned about Albert Lea after first meeting Tom and Jean Eaton at a home and garden show in 2008 and fell in love with the city when he came down as a Granicrete installer to help open Eat’n Ice Cream in 2019.

He became close with the Eatons, and Tom Eaton has been a mentor for many years, he said.

When in Albert Lea in the car driving back and forth to the ice cream shop, he started thinking about what a great community Albert Lea is and started thinking about why certain things weren’t happening in the city.

One day, he said, when driving from the Eatons’ house to the ice cream shop, he saw the building for sale at 218 S. Washington Ave. and decided to get the phone number for it.

Within 30 days, in July 2019, he and his wife closed on the building. They moved to Albert Lea themselves in December 2021.

Initially, he said, he had ideas to turn the building into a creative workspace and to transfer their business, called Epoxy Candy, down from Golden Valley. The business sells hand-crafted epoxy accessories all over the globe.

Nic Lang has a vast professional history, first operating a solutions-based company before getting into the company they have today. Over the years he has traveled to expos and events across the country, helping excite people and teach them how to work on various projects. He has done work with women’s clothing companies Altar’d State and Arula, some restaurants, Ancient Lore Village in Nashville, Sunsphere in Knoxville, Tennessee, and also with some theme parks.

Nic Lang said buildings and properties in Albert Lea have so much history and character, but in many cases they are vastly undervalued. He also referenced the community of Albert Lea and its amenities and how he could fix up a building in Albert Lea for substantially less than in the Twin Cities.

Running a mainly e-commerce business, he said they didn’t need to live in downtown Minneapolis to run their business and that they only needed to be close enough to be able to access an airport when needed.

BRICK + MORTAR Market will feature handmade items and showcase the trade and physical skills that are often lost when buying things at bigger box stores, he said. In addition to showcasing products, their goal is to also showcase the artisans themselves, too, giving them a chance to tell their stories and market them to the world, too.

While artisans will be able to have their work in the store, the Langs will also photograph all of their inventory and put it on the store’s webpage, and artisans will be able to teach classes about their craft.

“We’ll have everything that everybody has, but are looking for things that Albert Lea doesn’t have yet,” Sarah Lang said. “That’s what we’re looking for is those unique pieces, those unique artists.”

The Langs are partnering with Tammy Fink of The Hive on the effort. Steve and Jane Haukoos will be the managers.

Artisans who would like to be a part of the market are asked to sign up for a time to pitch their work on Friday and Saturday. Interested artisans can text 612-237-5818 or email to get signed up.

“Set up your table and your products, and we get to ask you a few questions,” Sarah Lang said. “You give us your demonstration, and we want to hear your story.”

The Langs said they have worked closely with the owners of Smith & Trade in Stillwater, who run a similar market.

The market preview for the general public at BRICK + MORTAR Market will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.


The Hatch

The second effort that the Langs are a part of is called The Hatch, which will be a nonprofit makerspace in a separate building.

Nic Lang said the plan is to have nine different disciplines in the facility, including glass blowing, metal working, blacksmithing, welding and woodworking, to name a few, and people can sign up to use the space through a membership fee. Storage will also be available for the members.

“It’s anything from introduction all the way to production,” he said. “Anything from using the mentors and people in the community who want to teach something in the community, to the people who’ve worked out of their garages and need to turn their hobby into a business.”

The space will have roughly $200,000 worth of high-end tools and equipments available for use, as well as access to business advice through SCORE mentors.

He said he would love to see people jump from working in their garage to creating at The Hatch and eventually grow to be in the business incubator in the city.

The Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce has taken the effort under its wing and formed an activation committee to look into bylaws, rules and what needs to be done to help the effort get its official nonprofit status. They are also looking for an executive director.

Shari Sprague, chamber director, said right now, they are gauging community support and looking for donations to get the effort off the ground.

There have been discussions about the Langs purchasing the neighboring building for The Hatch at 230 S. Washington Ave.

There will be an open house for this effort at 230 S. Washington from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. People will be able to learn how to be a part of the movement, see live demonstrations, talk with makers and receive free giveaways from the 3-D printers.

Aside from these two efforts, the Langs are also buying property across the street on Washington Avenue with plans for that space in the works.