The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
Robin Dionne and her husband, BJ Mansuetti, have had their fair share of organizing large-scale community events. Mansuetti, a native Rhode Islander, spent a decade in Boston where he co-founded and ran the New England Americana Festival, an event in Harvard Square that featured 75 bands from all over New England.
Dionne worked as the outreach director at the Arcade Providence, which transformed a National Historic Landmark property into a small business community in downtown Providence. Now, as chief public affairs officer for HealthSource RI, she’s been able to found and host RI VegFest, a local festival that celebrates vegan foods and companies.
During the pandemic, they watched as many small business owners and artists struggled to get back on their feet and survive. They founded Ampersand Creative Co., a creative and marketing agency, while also organizing and curating large-scale shopping events to help.
One of those events is “The Good Trade Makers Market,” which is slated for November and will focus on independent makers, manufacturers, artists, and vendors from Rhode Island and more than a dozen other states. It will take place at the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence.
“This is really a place where we can celebrate independent makers and manufacturers and bring them under one roof,” said Dionne.
Q: What’s the goal of this event?
Mansuetti: In the Northeast, we have a lot of great markets, but there’s not a lot of markets just for makers and manufacturers. Our goal is to bring these small businesses into one space, whether they be from Rhode Island or from another state, and introduce them to the people and consumers here. We want to help build these small brands into communities, fans, and a following. While we’re on this Providence-based event, we’re also thinking in the background of how we can grow this to other cities.
Q: What are some of the Rhode Island-based businesses that will be at November’s event?
Dionne: A variety of different places. Sue Gray Jewelry, which is a local company that makes handcrafted wax seal and sea glass jewelry, will be there. So will Newport Sea Salt Company, who hand-harvests sea salt; We Be Jammin’, which was a company launched in 2014 by a man with autism that has their own line of jams, salsas, and gourmet foods; Stock Culinary Goods, which is an independent store dedicated to “kitchen culture;” among several others.
Q: What sets the businesses you’re featuring apart?
Dionne: The most important thing about this is that you’ll be walking into a room with people who make their products themselves. They have so much knowledge about their own crafts and trades that it’s incredible. So you’re not just shopping for “stuff.” You’re able to talk to the founders and artisans and really get the background behind the product and art and their attention to detail. These aren’t just people that are curating a collection of other people’s good and reselling it. They’re all makers.
Q: How did you decide which businesses would participate?
Mansuetti: We had so many applications from small businesses who wanted to be involved and it was really hard to cap them at about 95 vendors. So we also have some businesses that will be part of our “Little City Thrifty Vintage Market,” which is dedicated to vintage, thrift, and antique vendors [March 5 and 6, 2022] and “Bloom,” which is a flower and home market [April 2 and 3, 2022] and with partner Bianca Gallagher.
Q: How could someone attend?
Mansuetti: Tickets are $5. And because we work with [nearly] all [Rhode Island-based] beverage sponsors, your ticket comes with a cocktail, coffee, or tea from them.