Last Month I was in Sand Lake for an appointment at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts. Looking for a coffee after I was directed to the Sand Lake Merchant across the street where I was happily surprised to see a thriving creative economy outpost and collaborative business model. I took a few minutes to talk to owner Amanda Goyer about her vision and what pried her away from a successful career in the banking industry.
Please state your name, business name, and title. Can you give us a bit about your background?
My name is Amanda Goyer and I am the Owner and Curator of Sand Lake Merchant. I was born and raised in the Capital Region in Latham. Graduated from Shaker High School in 2007. Attended Stonehill College in Easton, MA for Criminology and Psychology. Graduated in 2011. I came back to the Capital Region after graduation and got a job as a Crime Analyst with Schenectady Police Department. My initial career goal was to become a detective. I met my now-husband while working at Schenectady PD and the idea of a family came into vision. I made the decision at that time that I wanted a less risky career that I felt more comfortable about raising a family with. I shifted into event planning which I had always had a passion for but was incredibly different from what I had studied or done prior. I ended up at Autotask, now know as Datto, a Global Tech Company. I handled event planning across North America and then had the great opportunity to travel to London and Barcelona. The burnout of that industry is heavy and I felt it. I decided at that time to find something where I wouldn’t have to travel but could still be creative. A role opened at CAP COM Federal Credit Union leading their Foundation or charitable giving arm. That is where I found my home and rose to the role of Director of Community Engagement overseeing the Foundation, Public Relations, Business Development and School Banking. Following that I was at Keybank where I was Corporate Responsibility Officer for the Capital Region & Central New York Markets. In these roles, I learned how to collaborate, develop strategic alliances and deepen community partnerships to create positive change. All of these are attributes that I use today in my collaborative work at Sand Lake Merchant.
What made you decide to do the career shift and focus on the Sand Lake Merchant?
I really had no intentions of leaving my banking career. My goal was to climb the corporate ladder in banking following in my mother’s footsteps. My mother was the late Paula Stopera, former President and CEO of CAP COM Federal Credit Union. Unfortunately she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May of 2021 and passed that July. In the same year my father was diagnosed with dementia. My life and priorities shifted and I knew I needed to take time to heal. I also was reminded how short life is. I wanted to take more time to be with my husband and two young boys. I’m thankful that KeyBank was so kind and gracious when I made the decision to leave my corporate career. One of my mentors said to me when I was making the decision, “it doesn’t have to be forever.” That helped me take the step I needed away from a decade long journey in corporate banking and community development that I knew and loved.
I remember thinking “Who am I without my career?” I had attributed so much of my self-worth and purpose in life to my career. It was very intimidating to leave that piece of me behind.
It was the pause and the gray space that I allowed that sparked what would be the future Sand Lake Merchant. I was scrolling through Zillow one night and came across a beautiful building in our town that I have admired. It was for sale. I said to my husband, let’s just look at this place, what do you think?
The rest is history. We purchased a 200 year old building in the heart of town. Spent 16 months renovating the space completely. I had an amazing local general contractor. I built the plan based on the foundation of what it had been, which was a General Store for 150 years! From there it was a florist, country store and an antique store. I brought all of the pieces from the past forward and created Sand Lake Merchant.
Can you tell us a bit about the Sand Lake Merchant vision? The space drips with creativity!
The simple truth is I do not offer a product or service myself, but I had created a beautiful building, I was business savvy, not afraid to take risks and knew how to build a network. With that, I knew I needed to surround myself with people that had talents and services that could drive retail businesses. I think the marriage of corporate and creative can create huge success and my goal is to build a framework for how that is done, prove success and let that be a model for others to do the same.
What a feeling of freedom it has been to allow limitless creativity! However, that limitless creativity is focused with the lens of running a business that is built with strong values, diversified revenue streams and strong partnerships.
As a rural based business, there is a limit to the volume of folks you can get in the door which can limit your cash flow to pay overhead and staffing costs. How are you stratifying your programming and using collaboration to create stability? Can you mention a few examples?
I think a big assumption many people had and/or have is that our rural community does not have enough people and/or resources to support a locally-sourced, handmade type of gift shop that I’ve created in Averill Park. That was something I thought a lot about during the planning and research phase of my business. I knew that a gift shop alone would not be enough to draw the daily traffic we desired, but how could I fix that without taking on more than I could handle? The answer was and always will be collaboration.
Our first and most important strategic alliance was that with Gipfel Coffee Company. Gipfel had started their business locally in Averill Park in another location 2 years prior to the opening of Sand Lake Merchant. I became a Gipfel “regular” enjoying their custom roasted coffee and also the sense of community that came with visiting their shop. I knew a pain point of theirs was that they had outgrown the location they were in. Also their visitors were craving a larger space where they could sit and enjoy their coffee and pastries. I knew I could fix that pain point with our nearly 4,000 sq. ft. building, but I wasn’t sure if they would be onboard to move in. I invited their owner Christine Kehn over to see our building during the renovation. I remember asking her if we could sell her bags of coffee when we open the gift shop, and then I said do you want to hear my more aggressive idea? She said sure…I said will you move in with us? We still laugh to this day about that initial meeting. I attribute much of our success to the daily traffic the coffee shop drives in to our location that we would not otherwise get. I’ll always be thankful I was brave enough to ask a bold question and Christine was open to taking the risk alongside me. Today both of our businesses continue to grow and thrive together.
I had met another maker, Melissa Orth, owner and designer of PoppyTree Floral Designs in West Sand Lake. At the time I knew of her because of the amazing weddings she had designed florals for on Instagram. Then I noticed she started selling fresh floral bouquets in the old Gipfel Coffee Shop and people were loving them! Soon after I talked with Melissa and found she was looking to downsize the amount of annual weddings she was taking on but wanted to still create and retail her products. Our space allowed her to do just that. Her plants, florals and custom creations are a staple in our store.
Over 30 local makers are part of our creative retail community at SLM. Some have said their collaboration has changed their business and their lives. To see a maker be able to cut back on their day job and be able to focus more on their passion and creativity has been nothing short of a dream come true.
I will also say, our rural community in Averill Park is fast-growing, especially for families! We have the traffic, we have the people willing to invest locally, who are not shying away from paying a little more for a custom made gift or market item. These people have always been here, they were just traveling to Latham or Clifton Park or Saratoga to shop because they were seeking something we didn’t have in our hometown. Now we do, and they are showing up for us!
What are your goals for the future?
I would like to continue to build community through a variety of collaborative partnerships at Sand Lake Merchant. In addition, continue to expand on the potential of our 2nd floor event space by adding workshops and classes in 2024 hosted by our vendors. For example, paint and sip events, candle or jewelry making, art galleries, meditation, kids yoga and more! My goal is to find ways to grow, scale and sustain the business without necessarily adding more staff right now. The only way we can do that is through creative collaborations that create a win-win experience for everyone involved.
A prime example of this was our recent collaboration with Sand Lake Center for the Arts and our joint “Holiday Merchant Market.” Collectively we used our locations conveniently located across the street from each other to offer creatives the opportunity to showcase their handmade goods for sale. The planning was shared across both teams and the advertising was doubled between both of our networks. We both had a shared vision of creating something special for the community and we did just that. This year, hundreds of people filled the streets of Sand Lake to shop and support our local makers. Several makers said it was their most successful event to date.
I am a big believer in the phrase no risk, no reward and that is what I think about everyday when I’m planning or making choices that scare me.
Anything specifically coming up you would like to share with our audience?
Beginning in January of 2024 we are going to be looking for creatives and vendors that would like to utilize our space to host community events and workshops! If anyone is interested in learning more please email us at hello(@)sandlakemerchant.com