If you aren’t already familiar with Booth 121, you’ll soon want to learn more. Some of the items at this specialty craft store can also be found elsewhere, but what makes Booth 121 stand out is the originality and fun that owners Leah Robertson and Rebecca Aide bring to your experience, as well the personal touch and investment they place in each artist’s work.
Leah has a knack for painting furniture, and she loves giving discarded items a fresh, new look. The hobby turned to new venture when Leah’s sister-in-law Rebecca suggested they open a retail store, which they’d name after the antique mall booth where Leah had once displayed her creations. Booth 121 opened in November 2015 to host a variety of vendors, mostly local artists. They started with 16 artists and have grown to over 100.
“We have a big space to display the different artists’ products,” says Rebecca. “We don’t do traditional booths, no one rents space, and it’s on a consignment basis. We work with the makers on the displays, but most of the time we handle the staging of the areas.”
The displays bring artists’ works together, complementing each other, which gives customers ideas about how they’ll look in their homes. “Our products are definitely unique,” says Leah. “We have a lot of humorous items. Not the normal or what you would picture as a craft store.”
The bright, cheery colors and quirkiness of the store suits Leah’s style. She believes she inherited her warped sense of humor and love of snarky items from her mother, an ER nurse who raised Leah alone. Rebecca relates some of her style from the store’s items, and her kitchen is full of snarky items. She jokingly says, “I’m walking that fine line if my son’s friends can come over or not.”
Snarky items are always popular and keep people coming back for more, as does reasonably priced boutique-style clothing. Leah and Rebecca try to keep their fingers on the pulse of different trends. They search for functional items with a little twist, which makes a gift from Booth 121 great for others and yourself.
The community has embraced Leah and Rebecca, and the store is a great place to get one-of-a-kind items that support local artists. “It doesn’t feel like work,” says Leah. “We have the best customers. Lots of laughter. We’re not a store people have to go to, so people don’t come in dreading shopping. They’re excited to be here. A lot of fun to be a part of that.”
Leah’s workshop is on the premises. She continues to paint furniture for the store and on commission—people give Leah pieces to paint. Occasionally, Leah and Rebecca host workshops in the back room, usually coinciding with an event or party. They also promote events that their artists are in. “Our thought is one wins, we all win,” says Leah. And new artists just starting out who don’t have their own brick-and-mortar space are appreciative of the recognition they receive from the Monona community.
Coronavirus threw Leah and Rebecca a curve, just as it did every other local business. “Curbside and online ordering were instrumental in helping us get through that period when we couldn’t have people in the store,” says Leah. “And we saw a lot of support from the community.” They continue to adjust their business model through coronavirus with added safety precautions for in-person visits.
“Right now, we’ll be okay. Rebecca and I will be okay. Our store will be okay,” says Leah. “We’re just really concerned and want people to support the different vendors that we have that depend on these huge craft shows. That’s what they do for a living. And they are really hurting at this point because of coronavirus cancelling events.”
Rebecca says, “We carry a lot of items from those particular vendors that do depend on it for their full-time career, so if people do want to get out and shop, this would be the place to come to support them.”
Both Leah and Rebecca emphatically say, “We’re here! We’re not planning on going anywhere.” Visit the store, support the artists, and find homemade, specialty items. You can get inspired and influenced by a new style, and knowing that each purchase is a handmade, original item supporting someone’s livelihood and passion just makes it that much sweeter.
Unsure what the future of events holds, Leah and Rebecca are contemplating how they’ll celebrate their fifth anniversary coming up the first week of November. In the past, they’ve had big crowds for anniversary celebrations, with giveaways of donated vendor items. Stay tuned for an announcement and details.
Booth 121 will continue to evolve trends and different artists’ works, listening to what the people really want to see. Let Leah and Rebecca share some happiness and laughter with their products. It’s a little bit of joy we could all use.
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.