When the pandemic hit Rhode Island, Briana Baldi watched in horror as small business owners and artisans were forced to shut their doors or discontinue their online shops. At the same time, big box stores and major chains were allowed to stay open, and their stocks continued to rise.
A senior engineer for biotechnology company Amgen, Baldi, who has a background in science, founded Santora Street Marketplace in 2021.
What is Santora Street Marketplace?
Santora Street Marketplace is a curated online shop where each artist is vetted for quality of goods, ethics, and their impact on the planet. We carry reusable products to help people live eco-friendly lifestyles and reduce waste. It’s a for-profit social enterprise, but we have a nonprofit partnership with One Tree Planted. Through that partnership, we’ve planted more than 80 trees across the US.
How is this different from Etsy, which is a global marketplace online of creative goods?
Almost anyone can become a seller on Etsy, which also collects a commission on products sold. I partner with artists, invest in them by purchasing inventory, and then sell it on Santora Street Marketplace.
What kinds of artisans are you working with?
Many of them have missions of their own. We carry bags from Burn Bag USA, which are [pocketbooks and handbags] made from decommissioned fire hoses by a female firefighter in North Carolina. Each Burn Bag purchase helps women recovering from addiction get back on their feet. Every fire department color codes their hose and each bag includes an authentic tag with a production number and where the hose served. We carry temporary tattoos that are hand drawn by Colorado artist Emma Mannino, candles from Hearth and Craft Co., and hand towels by Anna Whitham Co., which is led by a Massachusetts-based illustrator and painter.
How are you supporting these artisans and small businesses?
My tagline is “every product has a story, every purchase makes an impact.” I truly believe that the more I learn about why an artisan started making their products in the first place. It’s important for me to learn about the artisan and what they stand for while I’m establishing a relationship with them first and before I purchase any of their products to sell on the marketplace. When I do, I’m also promoting their products on my social media. I’m essentially selling that artist and their story. And I’m not asking the artists to post about Santora Street.
However, there’s more I’d like to do.
I never thought of artisans as my customers until I went through a program with the Social Enterprise Greenhouse. I’m in the beginning stages of starting to research what I could do to benefit these artisans. I’m starting to interview them to see what their struggles are and how I could help them.
Why did you name it “Santora Street?”
Santora Street is named after my great grandmother Dorothy Santora. She was this incredible woman born in 1920 and still managed to be fierce yet kindhearted. I was raised by strong independent women who instilled in me to constantly reach for the unattainable. My aim is to make the world a better place through the marketplace and that her legacy will live on through them.
I plan to start a foundation to award scholarships to aspiring women entrepreneurs that will be in my great grandmother’s name. I currently help support women who have already taken that step into entrepreneurship. The foundation will help award women who are interested and passionate, but have not yet taken that next step.
Where are you running Santora Street Marketplace?
From my home in Cranston. Everyone sees the beautiful parts of the business on Instagram. But nobody sees that my son’s entire closet is literally full of labeled containers from floor to ceiling of products for Santora Street. It’s a one-woman show. From trying to figure out how to file taxes properly to designing and building the website, it took me Googling everything. I built everything myself from the ground up.
What is your business model? Are you profitable yet?
I’m not making a profit yet. Whatever money I am making is going back into the business. Marketing Santora Street is tough. I printed out 500 flyers, for example, that I [placed] all over the Massachusetts Conference For Women. It’s been an overwhelming positive experience, but I’m still in the hustling phase.
I do plan on hosting more pop-ups and possibly start looking into funding or sponsorships.
What challenges are you facing with Santora Street Marketplace?
My No. 1 issue is audience. No one knows I exist. Secondly, I am a one-woman show. I have a full-time job as an engineer, two kids, and many pets. There’s things I want to be doing that I just cannot because it’s only me. I want to send out newsletters, post more blogs about the artists and their stories, and be more present on social media. Even recently, on Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, I didn’t prep as much as I should have. I should have scheduled social media posts to go out, alerting people of a 25 percent off all sales deal. Instead, I put up one post and didn’t get the traction I wanted. It’s a lesson I learned for next year.
I need to grow to the point where I can get more people on board. I reached out to a few [local] universities in Rhode Island, looking for an intern, but I haven’t heard back. I know that if I get someone on board to help me grow this, I can turn this into something really special.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.