Life works in mysterious ways. It’s rarely, if ever, a linear, unobstructed path from Point A to Point B.
This has been the case for Erin Klaus, co-owner of Tangled up in Hue and Blue Boxer Arts.
Around 11 years ago, Klaus — a UW-Eau Claire graduate — traveled to Tucson, Ariz. to get her masters degree in women’s studies. However, when her mother was re-diagnosed with cancer, Klaus made the journey back to Wisconsin earlier than planned.
Klaus said starting a business was something she always thought about doing. The city of Tucson and her already existing creativity were what really inspired her to pull the entrepreneurial trigger.
Tucson, Klaus said, incorporated art into everything — businesses, bike racks and even garbage cans were art-centric.
“It was really inspiring, that sense of community it had even though it was a big city,” Klau said.
At this time, Jamie Kyser — now co-owner of Tangled up in Hue and Blue Boxer Arts — owned a bead kiosk in the mall. Kyser was a manager at the kiosk when the owners offered to pass it on to her.
“I really believe you shouldn’t pass up opportunities, especially ones of this stature,” Kyser said.
Klaus worked for Kyser at the kiosk at the time. When she returned from Arizona, Klaus was ready to start a business and Kyser was ready to sell the kiosk. The duo decided to become business partners and swiftly began the process to establish their first store: Tangled up in Hue.
Now, about 11 years later, Klaus and Kyser are owners of not one but two successful businesses. Tangled up in Hue will be celebrating 10 years of business this February, and Blue Boxer Arts has been open for one year. The duo also established Eau Claire’s Artists’ Market that runs alongside the Eau Claire Farmers’ Market.
Tangled up in Hue is an art collective — a space for local artists to sell their handmade items, Klaus said. When it first opened, downtown was a “ghost town,” Klaus said.
“We were around kind of at the start of the downtown revitalization,” Klaus said. “We saw a lot of businesses move out at that time, with the construction and uncertainty. We kind of just held steadfast in what we were doing.”
When they opened, the business partners worked with 13 featured artists, Klaus said. Now, around 200 artists sell their items through Tangled up in Hue.
Blue Boxer Arts is more of an art supply store, Kyser said. The store sells locally-produced beads and fibers. A lot of the fiber vendors are local sheep or alpaca farmers, she said. Blue Boxer Arts also offers creative classes. The aim is to provide a more experience-based “creative, open space,” Klaus said.
“We’re still implementing a lot of the same characteristics that Tangled up in Hue thrives on,” Kyser said.
Tangled up in Hue started out in the space that is now Blue Boxer Arts, Kyser said. The old space wasn’t big enough for the owners to take Tangled up in Hue where they wanted it to go, she said. There was a vacant space across the street so the business partners decided to jump on the opportunity.
The establishment of Blue Boxer Arts seemed easier than dealing with paying off or leaving the lease of the old space, Klaus said. When the duo opened up Tangled up in Hue, they did hope to eventually open a bead shop, Klaus said.
“We’re both jewelry makers and both love beads and going to visit bead shops,” Klaus said. “We had the inventory, we just never had space to sell it in that kind of capacity. So, literally in a heartbeat, we decided to open a bead store as well.”
Business ownership — especially as women — has not been easy, Klaus said. In the beginning, Klaus and Kyser worked all of the business hours themselves and managed or made all of the product. Now, the duo have 12 people on staff.
Klaus said she sits on the executive boards of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. and South Barstow Business Improvement District. She said she’s noticed, even though they’ve been in business for almost 10 years and have gained community respect, they aren’t always taken seriously because they’re women who make “cute stuff.”
Klaus said she hopes to keep making connections with other female entrepreneurs and empowering or inspiring women.
“A lot of new businesses and young entrepreneurs have moved to the area in the last year with the whole revitalization,” Klaus said. “I’ve become friends with them, and networked, and I feel like their confidence in their business comes a lot from businesses like ours being able to prove ourselves and maintain over the last 10 years in a small community.”
It’s been a lot of slow steps forward, Klaus said. Each year, the business partners set a goal for their businesses. So far, Klaus said they’ve met every single goal.
The very first goal was to form an identity. Their goal for 2019, Klaus said, is to grow their screen-printing operation. She also hopes to establish a wholesale website and brand merchandises in order to get it into other stores, she said.
“The biggest goal is to be a part of a community that makes people want to work/play/live here, to be a part of the Eau Claire community,” Klaus said.
Reisdorf can be reached at [email protected]