Keeping it local

The Hannah Grimes Marketplace and Center for Entrepreneurship helps local businesses get their ideas off the ground and keep them there

Before there was the “Buy Local” movement, Mary Ann Kristiansen was making soap in the kitchen of her Roxbury homestead. She was selling the soap in Denmark, and in Italy and New York and San Francisco. But not in Roxbury, or in Keene.

Kristiansen’s kitchen is an old one. The first woman to toil in it was named Hannah Grimes. Grimes was born in 1776, and would have known how to do everything from bake bread in a brick oven to mold candles from tallow and fashion clothing for her children from flax and wool. What she didn’t make or grow herself she would have known how to get locally.

Kristiansen stood there with her soap in Hannah’s old house and realized that the infrastructures for buying and selling local goods had vanished.

So she set about to recreate them.

This would be harder than making soap.

But it worked.

In 1997, Kristiansen launched the non-profit Hannah Grimes Marketplace on Main Street in Keene, giving local producers and artisans a market for their goods – while also helping them learn skills to build sustainable businesses.

In 2006, the venture expanded into the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, a thriving business incubator that helps launch and grow small businesses.

“I was interested in getting these amazing products into the marketplace and helping these amazing people with business skills,” Kristiansen said.

The Marketplace now has about 300 members selling wares in the storefront, and has done nearly $5 million in sales – $5 million that has stayed in the local economy. The center runs programs and workshops – from an intensive, six-week “Startup Lab” to a Leadership Circle and workshops and one-on-one coaching on everything from marketing to accounting, website development and supervising employees. It has provided office space for 83 for-profit and nonprofit ventures. (All done with a staff of four and a cadre of local professionals who volunteer their time.) The center has plans to expand again, adding a center for innovation focused on high-tech, advanced manufacturing and other sectors.

“You can’t buy happiness. But you can buy local. And that’s kind of the same thing.”
– t-shirt logo at Hannah Grimes Marketplace
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Foundation support for the center includes $55,000 in operating support since 2010.

“The Hannah Grimes Center is doing sophisticated economic development from the grassroots,” said Melinda Mosier, a Foundation senior program officer. “They’re helping people run sustainable businesses, proving a market for local goods, keeping millions of dollars in the local economy, and helping grow businesses that provide local jobs. And they’re always thinking about ‘what’s next?’”

Dozens of business have been incubated here – from a local architecture firm to an online retailer of high-end housing goods and a local catering company.

An astonishing 86 percent of the businesses that have been through the center’s incubator since 2006 remain in business today.

“That’s what incubation does,” Kristiansen says.

Tim Pipp’s business is one of them. He owns Beeze Tees, a bustling screen printing shop on Main Street in Keene that employs 12 people, eight full-time.

Pipp, who majored in graphic design at Keene State, started Beeze Tees in his basement. At the Center’s Startup Lab and then in its Entrepreneurship Project, he learned about business plans, strategic planning, marketing, product development, HR compliance, taxes and managing employees. He made a five-year business plan and set long-term goals and strategies.

He established a network of business contacts through the center, does business with people he met there, and is now part of its Leadership Circle.

Pipp’s goal was to hit $1 million in sales in 10 years. He did it in fewer than six.

Every time someone asks about his success, he says, “Hannah Grimes comes into the conversation.”

Some of Pipp’s t-shirts are on offer in the Marketplace. One says:

“You can’t buy happiness. But you can buy local. And that’s kind of the same thing.”

The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship won the Business of the Year award from the Keene Chamber of Commerce in January.

Hannah Grimes, whose name has become synonymous with small-business success in the Monadnock Region, is buried in the Roxbury Cemetery.

Kristiansen wants to be buried beside her.