To both first-time visitors and seasoned shoppers, the Main Street Cultural District screams local. It’s a rare venue for the sale of Ames-made art, food, and music in America’s increasingly mass-produced culture.
Lifelong Ames resident Shelley Jaspering wanted to take advantage of the booming central Iowa arts scene and the vibrancy of downtown Ames by combining these two forces into a single store, Where It’s At.
“I’ve always wanted a store like this because I’ve been a crafter and music fan my entire life,” Jaspering said. “I thought Ames would be a good place to open a local craft/music store because it’s a diverse and lively college town.”
Jaspering, who also works at Wheatsfield Cooperative’s grocery store near Main Street, said she opened her store after realizing her friends (all local artists and musicians) wanted a physical space to sell their work and show the public what Ames artists could create.
“I work with about 10 other artists,” Jaspering said. “They’re all my friends, and I decided to start small by sticking to people I know.”
Where It’s At’s inventory includes “handmade vintage” clothes, jewelry, and accessories, along with local magazines and albums. The store’s local music shelf pays homage to Jaspering’s unwavering support of local music, including releases by Maximum Ames Records.
“As a collector, I like having the hard copy of an album,” Jaspering said. “With local music, it’s much easier to buy or download online since most music stores do not carry local records in their stock. Whenever I go to a show at DG’s [or somewhere else in Central Iowa], I try to pick up a few copies of [the musician's] CD to sell in the store.”
“I have five regional bands in stock right now, mostly bluegrass and jam bands,” Jaspering added. “I am always open to adding new artists that customers are interested in listening to.”
Jaspering always acknowledges that she is “starting small” — the store itself is located in a tiny room in the same building as Downtown Deli on Main Street. Where It’s At owes its identity to the concepts of “starting small” and staying local.
“It’s been challenging to let people know where exactly I’m located,” Jaspering said. “That’s kind of how the name ‘Where It’s At’ came about. Every time somebody comes in, they say, ‘I didn’t know anything was back here. I’m glad to find you here, I’ll tell my friends.’”
As the founder and operator of local music blog Iowa Jamband Society, Jaspering considered becoming an online vendor of local art and music prior to opening Where It’s At in May 2011. The idea was quickly put to rest when Jaspering realized local businesses like Where It’s At are becoming increasingly rare.
“I don’t have a place to sell my stuff online,” Jaspering said. “It’s easier for people to stop in and try clothes on and see everything in front of them. Plus I think people need to come to Main Street and look at all the local businesses that are popping up in this area.”
“You can’t find stuff like this at the mall,” Jaspering added.
Still, Jaspering’s small space and unexpected location have made advertising Where It’s At a formidable challenge. Because the store’s budget doesn’t allow for large-scale advertising campaigns, Jaspering has used word-of-mouth tactics and Facebook to her advantage.
“Word of mouth is the best way to advertise,” Jaspering said. “Even if someone stumbles upon the store and doesn’t buy anything, I know that Where It’s At may come up in some future conversation that [he or she] may have. I’ve also learned to use my Facebook page to create some buzz online.”
Now, a little more than one year after opening Where It’s At, Jaspering hopes to improve her setup and to stuff even more local art into her cozy space.
“I hope I can expand to a bigger space some day, but for now, I’m going to keep renting this room,” Jaspering said. “I want more people to hear about the store and be aware of local artists in general. Right now, it’s not about making money. It’s about getting the word out.”
Where It’s At
328 Main Street Suite 105, Ames, IA 50010 (just behind Downtown Deli).
Open Thursday 2-7 PM, Friday 1-5 PM, Saturday 10 AM-5 PM
Accepts Dwolla and most major credit cards