Cartoons play in the background as their 18-month-old son, Levi, rolls a child-sized basketball across the patterned rug situated behind a wooden desk. While keeping an eye on Levi, Kristy ‘97 and Nate Norman reflect back to November 2016 when an idea changed their lives.
“Our dream has always been to own a handmade-goods store,” Kristy said. “We were at a craft show, and I mentioned the idea of opening a store to a friend who was selling records in the booth next to us. He said, ‘That’s rad! You should look at the building I’m about to move into.’”
With this friendly nudge, Kristy and Nate began investigating property in downtown Tyler where brick streets and neon marquees remind visitors of bygone days. Although the Normans were excited to move forward with this project, some hesitancy remained.
“In December 2016, I was saying, ‘No, we can’t do it,’ but every obstacle was knocked out of our way,” Kristy said. “God cleared a pathway for this. Everything we asked for to make this happen he gave us.”
The Normans “decided to go for it” and started the groundwork for what is now 903 Handmade, a boutique-style shop with a range of handmade items.
The shop opened Feb. 10, 2017, after two months of preparation, which included visiting similar stores in Texas, building a pallet wall and organizing items in the store. The day of the soft opening, Nate recalls putting the final touches on the store at 11:30 a.m. and opening for customers a mere 30 minutes later. The couple described the day as “crazy” and “a relief.”
“The community has been super supportive since day one,” Nate said. “We have loyal customers who come in every couple of weeks to see what’s new. They not only want to support us, but they also want to support the makers of the products.”
The business is family owned and operated. Kristy and Nate have two sons and a daughter. In addition to Levi, their son Camden is 14 years old. Sophia, their 16-year-old daughter, often helps run the store.
“I grew up in a family business, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Nate said. “This is a cool thing to have, and I’m super proud of my wife. She runs it day-to-day with three kids. She’s here with Levi every day; he’s known as the shop baby.”
A plethora of handmade items is sold in the store such as jewelry, leather goods and purses, canvas bags, cards, screen-printed T-shirts, soy candles, all-natural body and cleaning products, pillows, and more. As the store’s name suggests, most of the items are from Texas makers and locals who live within the 903 area code in East Texas; however, the shop also showcases items from across the U.S.
“We wanted to design a shop where people could come every day and buy something that is handmade and local,” Kristy said. “There’s something special about handmade goods.”
The store opened with 25 vendors and now features more than 60, including Kristy and Nate. As an SFA student, Kristy majored in fashion merchandising with a minor in art.
“I grew up watching my dad with his business, and my mom always made crafts when I was growing up,” Kristy said. “In college, I took an art history course, which spurred me to want to be a maker.”
Kristy enrolled in photography, pottery and jewelry making at SFA. This training and her natural creative abilities led her to make her own jewelry.
She now sells stamped jewelry known as Lou C’s designs in 903 Handmade. Likewise, Nate’s grandfather was a woodworker, and Nate spent much of his childhood with his grandfather in the wood shop. Nate’s love of woodworking continues, and he builds growth-chart rulers to sell in 903 Handmade.
The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.