SACO – The creative process is often solitary, but a group of artisans has discovered the benefits of teamwork when it comes to selling their goods.

Stone Soup Artisans is celebrating the 20th anniversary of operating a retail storefront in Saco. It has featured the work of more than 300 artists belonging to the Society of Southern Maine Craftsmen, with 45 currently selling their wares at the shop.

When it was founded, it was the fourth of its kind run by member artists. Today, it is the only one that remains open.

Joanne Kenyon and Sue Littlefield, potters who have been involved since it opened on June 14, 1991, attributed the shop’s longevity to teamwork. “We spread out the workload, the worry and keep overhead down,” said Littlefield.

The colorful trim on the facade of the Main Street shop welcomes customers in. The mix of offerings in the window displays speaks to the cooperative nature of the shop.

Shelves and floor displays feature the work of the 45 artists — from blank cards with vibrant images, fashionable jewelry and scarves to an array of pottery, colorful candles and paintings.

Artists establish their own prices, which range from $2 for pet toys to $200 for hand crafted wooden bowls.

The shop is open six days a week and run by a core group of 12, Kenyon said. They work on a volunteer basis, keeping the shop clean and organized, freshening up displays, assisting customers and keeping the shelves stocked.

Membership fees and a percentage of all sales are used to pay rent, buy supplies and do some minimal advertising, Kenyon said. The actual amount of commission depends on the artist’s involvement in running the store. Members who aren’t involved in store operations also pay an annual fee, an amount Kenyon did not disclose.

“We pretty much break even,” Kenyon said. “We couldn’t do this if we had to pay salaries.”

The shop has become a consistent outlet for artists to sell crafts.

Fiber artist Deb Georgitis, who works at the store one day a week, said that even though monthly sales vary she uses the shop as her main retail outlet, not craft shows.

“Craft shows are exhausting and uncertain,” Georgitis said. “You never know how much stock to bring.”

Running the shop cooperatively also allows artists to dedicate more time to their craft. Fabric artist Carol Funk works two half-days a month at the shop, but spends 20 to 30 hours a week making table runners, pillows and other items.

While sales of crafts have gone down over the years, Kenyon said the shop’s unique and varied offerings, as well as the effort to keep the store fresh, has allowed the artists to stay open despite the economy and competition from big box stores.

In addition to visiting the store, customers can browse items on the store’s website, which also has links to some of the artists’ websites and online stores.

Standing beside a shelf of her pottery, Kenyon explained she has incorporated blueberries and moose on her mugs and kitchenware to appeal to tourists.

Georgitis said she’s making less fleece clothing for children and focusing more on elegant scarves and lady’s handbags.

“People are appreciating more sophisticated things. But if they’re looking for (low) prices, we can’t compete,” she said.

The store has built a regular customer base, Kenyon said, and people enjoy meeting the artists working behind the counter.

And even after 20 years, Georgitis said, “We still have (local) people who come in and say they’ve never been in here.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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