Seven Questions with April Rhodes of The Little Light Collective
The new Clintonville store is a treasure trove of antiques and locally made goods.
In many ways, April Rhodes was destined to open The Little Light Collective. Before launching her new Clintonville store, Rhodes spent many years as a fabric designer—a career she fell into while working at her mother Anita Gastaldo’ store, Sew To Speak.
Rhodes comes from a family of sewers and quilters, starting with her grandmother. Like sewing, collecting antiques has also been a large part of Rhodes’ life. She took a break from fabric designing when her son was born last year, but she knew she wanted to find another creative outlet. That led her first to having a booth at an antique mall and now, having her own store, The Little Light Collective. The store features 27 vendors selling their wares, mainly antiques but also plants, clothing, candles and home goods. Oh, and Rhodes grandmother who introduced the family to sewing? She also used to be an antique dealer. “I've grown up around all the things that I've ended up doing,” Rhodes says.
Columbus Monthly spoke to Rhodes about opening her store, which is completely women-owned and run. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
How did The Little Light Collective come to be?
My background is in fabric design, and I've done a lot in the sewing world for many years. Years ago, I had a dream that I would have my own space, and I would do events and teach classes, but also host other people teaching their craft. That got put on the wayside. I was about to sign a lease in 2018 on a space, and it fell through. Then I got pregnant just a year later with our son, and that was a surprise. I thought, I guess I'm gonna have to wait another five years for that to happen. But after [my son] was born, I found that I really needed to do something for myself. I've always collected antiques, and my husband and I have a whole house full of secondhand goods. I follow a lot of ladies [on social media] that sell their stuff at other antique stores in the area. I thought I could do that while being at home with an infant. I could stock my booth and then come home and still be available for my kids. I approached a local shop, and he accepted me right away, and I got my own booth space. It was a dream. I was so in love with curating the space and just having that place to go to and drop my goods off and set it up just how I liked it, and then go home.
Then COVID hit, and some things went down that I wasn't very happy with at this space. I found that I wanted to move out pretty much immediately after businesses reopened. But I still had a houseful of stuff, plus all the goods that were in my antique booth, and I definitely didn't have storage for it. I started thinking, “Maybe this is the time to open that shop, and maybe it looks different than what I first thought it would look like.” Instead of having the majority of it be events and workshops, maybe it would be a retail space, and then later on down the road, when COVID's no longer an issue, it could be a space for teaching intimate classes and other things like that. I thought at first, when I started moving out of my old antique booth, that I would look for a shop and maybe get four or six other vendors to come along with me. Within the first 24 hours of putting it out there to some of the people that I am the most drawn to, I had 11 people say yes, “We want to do that with you.” By the next 48 hours, I think I had 14 or 18. Now we have 27 vendors.
You're in the old location for Eat, Purr, Love. From finding a place to getting it all set up to opening, how long did that take?
I decided to move out of the antique mall that I used to be in around mid-June. I've watched property on Indianola [Avenue] for years now. The other place that I was trying to lease was also on Indianola. The shop next to the Little Light Collective was vacant. I went and inquired about it from [Elizabeth's Records]. He gave me the number of the landlord. When I called the landlord and shared my idea and what I was hoping to rent the space for, he said, “Well, nobody knows yet, but the cat cafe is actually moving, because they need a larger space.” I was like, “That's awesome, but I think that's gonna be way too big for me. I don't think I'm ready for that sort of commitment, and I don't have enough other vendors or enough capital to invest in that large of a space.” And then a day later, I found out that I had 14 vendors, and that I probably could fill the majority of the cat cafe. Then I signed the lease, and I got the keys July 1, and then we opened Aug. 18.
Do you plan to add more vendors?
I am adding consignment artists. We have gallery wall space, and then I also can accept people to do furniture consignment in some areas of the store. We are adding vendors, just not more booth rentals. I've maxed out every square foot of the space and rented out everything, so that's been pretty exciting. I thought I would have vacant spaces coming into opening, and I don't have any.
I know that a lot of the vendors in the store are women. Is that something you strived to highlight in the store?
It is, and we are 100 percent women-owned and [run]. It's all about supporting and uplifting women. In my previous experience in the design world, especially in the fabric design world, a lot of the designers are female. A huge chunk of the people making the art and putting in the work are women. But the businesses and the manufacturers are all men, and the people making the profit are the guys. I wanted our store to be about the ladies making the profit.
What has it been like opening the store in the middle of COVID-19 when a lot of small businesses are still trying to figure out how to navigate this?
That was really scary for me. I wasn't sure what that was gonna be like, and it was something I was pretty worried about. Am I going to be contributing to the problem or contributing to the spread by doing this and opening a business now? It was something that was really important to me to be super intentional and thoughtful in the way that we would open during a pandemic. The reason why I decided to go ahead and do it is because a lot of the women that vend at my store rely so much on summer festivals and things that have all been canceled due to the pandemic. I wanted to have a place where they could safely vend their goods without having festivals to rely on. The other reason why it was possible for me to open a store now is majorly in part because of the pandemic, because my life at home was put on hold. I wasn't going anywhere or doing anything else. My kids aren't having any activities right now. So for once, we're not busy. I mean, it's the perfect time to start a business, I guess.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to have a place where you could teach classes. What are your future plans for that?
We're not going to be doing any classes or events until post pandemic. Looking forward to that day, I want to have small intimate classes. My vision is that someday six friends can all gather together and we can do a small macramé class or knitting, hand sewing, embroidery. I teach all those things. I also have vendors that are interested in teaching flower arrangement. We definitely have a list of classes and events that are on our future radar.
Opening a store has been a long held dream of yours. What is it like now that you've achieved this?
It feels unreal until I sit down and think about it. I have always, since I was a kid, wanted to have my own shop. I grew up in Clintonville on Cooke Road, and my parents used to let my sisters and I ride the No. 2 bus down High Street, and we would go shopping. We could ride all the way down to City Center, but I usually liked to hang out in Clintonville and shop the strip just past North Broadway where there were always a lot of antique stores. I remember I was probably either in middle school or maybe just barely high school, and I went down by myself to shop in that area. There used to be a store called SoBo Style. Katie [Palmer], the owner of SoBo, was there working, and I think it was a brand new shop back then. I remember walking in and probably naively saying something like, “How do you do this?” She was like, “How do you do what?” And I was like, “How do you have your own shop? What do you go to school for?” Katie has a very dry demeanor, and she was like, “You just do it.”
I always remembered that. I think that memory surfaced recently when I was going through the process of making the shop happen. I don't know what the heck I'm doing, but you just do it. It feels really incredible to have done it, and also to have a community that's done it with me, to not feel alone at a time like this when we're all socially distanced and living at home in our own bubbles. I feel like I've had such a gift from all the vendors that have signed on with me and agreed to be part of the wild ride. It's beyond what I dreamt it would be. It's so much more beautiful than I had hoped it would be. I feel really satisfied. During the build out, I built some suspended glass shelves out of pipe and painted them gold, and it just brought back all these feelings of how capable I am. Because sometimes you just feel so powerless, and it felt really good to get in there and use my two hands to make it come to life.
Little Light Collective
3041 Indianola Ave., Clintonville
Open Tue through Sun, 12-6pm