A Morgantown artisan opens a brick-and-mortar boutique to showcase regional talent.
When Stephanie Swaim moved to Morgantown a decade ago, she couldn’t find the type of shops she remembered from her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. “There are these little stores that feature local artists and items,” she says. “A place for them to be besides just their Etsy accounts or their websites.”
So she started one.
Hoot and Howl, founded as a brick-and-mortar in August 2018, features a wide variety of local artisans. The shop began with just 12 partnerships. In under a year, that number has exploded to more than 65.
Swaim is a woman on a mission to highlight local talent. “I think shopping small is about the experience,” she says. “You’re coming in and I can tell you a little bit about the artist or you might even meet them while you’re here.”
The variety of products at Hoot and Howl is wide and eclectic: vintage clothing, handmade baby items, refurbished furniture, artisan body products, unique notebooks, and other gifts. Swaim is an artisan herself. She makes jewelry and crochet items for the shop, among other handmade goods, which she sells under the brand name Hoot and Howl.
While Swaim has no hard-and-fast rules about what she’s looking for, the products at Hoot and Howl tend to follow a pattern. Many of the body products are natural, organic, and chemical-free. The jewelry and stationery items are quirky and fun. Almost everything is locally made, either in West Virginia or in surrounding states.
Above all, Swaim emphasizes quality. “The craftsmanship has got to be there,” she says. “People who are taking the time to learn how to properly do their craft—that’s important.”
This open-ended approach to inventory has resulted in some highly specialized and creative products filling the shelves at Hoot and Howl. Lucid Wands crafts beautiful wooden wands—a popular handiwork for Harry Potter fans. The Salvage Nation makes vintage radios that are compatible with Bluetooth devices, resulting in speakers that are both unique and practical. “They’re crazy hot,” Swaim says. “Everybody loves those. I sold so many for Christmas.”
Though her partnerships have grown exponentially in the past year, Swaim isn’t finished expanding. “I’m still sourcing, I’m still looking around,” she says. In particular, she hunts for pieces that will complement what’s already available in the shop. But she doesn’t want any products that are too similar to what’s already available. “I don’t want any competition in the store.”
Swaim plans to keep building connections and providing opportunities for local artists. She also hopes the storefront can double as a workshop space. “I did not know we had this much talent in this area when I started,” she says. “All these people come in, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I made this.’ And I’m like, ‘Where have you been hiding?’”
Written by Emilie Shumway
Photographed by Carla Witt Ford