Some might say the import business is in her blood and if they did, Escalon High alum and Oakdale resident Maria Moore would likely not disagree. The busy mother of two recently brought her passion for custom imports to downtown Oakdale, opening Maria’s Artisan Shop.

Located at the front of Oakdale Pilates Studio, 143 N. First Ave., the roomy entry space of the studio has been transformed with colorful handbags, small leather goods, wall hangings and garments.

Moore shared she grew up working for her family’s business Lopez Imports in Escalon. At the very same location, she first launched her passion for the finely made leather goods she now sells in her downtown shop over four years ago.

“So that’s kind of what motivated me to try something and then I decided to go out on my own,” she said of working for the family business.

“It was just small like a little box I ordered of wristlets and some handbags and little accessories,” Moore said of her initial order, “and I would post it on Instagram. I just kind of grew a following online and kind of built my name.”

On-line orders quickly began to grow, prompting the business inventory to grow from taking over her living room, to a spare room in her Oakdale home. A growth Moore shared prompted her to seek a storefront. An initial opening in Riverbank in late 2019 proved to not be profitable, most especially with the pandemic hitting shortly after. With on-line sales continuing to climb, Moore shared she used the space more as a work space than an actual shop.

In the fall of 2021, the business owner shared she began considering relocating the business, targeting more foot traffic. A post indicating such on her personal social media page, gained the attention of Oakdale Pilates Studio owner Monica Harris. Harris still maintains the Pilates studio in the back half of the building.

“The size was almost the same size,” she said of the current space versus her previous location. In mid-November of 2021 the doors opened and Moore shared she’s been very happy with the reception she’s received.

Noting spring as her busier time, Moore shared she was pleased with the foot traffic she received during the holiday season. Not one to turn to traditional advertising she shared both gratitude and pleasure with the word of mouth support.

“I actually like it more when it’s word of mouth,” she said, “because that’s been an actual real experience. It feels good when somebody has been referred.

“I want people to have a nice, good experience when they come in as well,” she continued. “A lot of the people that have come in, you can see they’re wanting to support a local business and it’s just a really welcoming feeling.”

The artisan enthusiast also shared she feels it important for customers to understand what they’re getting and experiencing. Many of the products sold in her shop come from small artisan workshops in Guatemala. Working with two main point people, representing two separate shops of artisans, it’s important to Moore that she stay clear of sweat shops.

“They basically have their own workshops and small workshops so there’s not sweatshops or anything like that,” she said of her two main contacts, noting that they also work together on designing specific patterns based on what her customer base is seeking.

According to Moore, most of the bags and small goods are built around colorful textiles which were once handmade blouses. Those are then partnered with full grain leather to create unique accessory pieces.

“It’s all real full grain leather,” she shared of the merchandise. “So there’s different types of leathers; there is leather that is comparable to particleboard that falls apart, that’s very inexpensive. Then there’s genuine leather and then there’s full grain leather which is the most raw form.”

The unique bags, albeit with a higher price point, have a following and are widely appreciated by collectors throughout the US. So much so that the shop owner hosts a group on Facebook specifically for this clientele.

“A lot of them are my regular shoppers, members of Facebook group. So I’ll order enough to have new releases most of the time every Friday,” she said, adding that the weekly Friday releases are something she does primarily in the spring.

The artisan shop owner also noted that her connection to the business and the products grew from a love of things that were pretty to more of a passion for the product as well as the artisans. A passion for the item (blouse) being used and its meaning to the owner who worked hard to make the garment they once wore.

“I wanted to make sure that’s what I was representing,” she said of the Guatemalan artisans. “That they’re getting their fair pay and that they’re getting respect. This was their clothing, and they’re taking it apart to make handbags.”

As for business hours, Moore shared she’s still working those out and encourages customers to check her out on both Facebook and Instagram at Maria’s Artisan Shop for updated hours. Her merchandise may also be found on the website mariasartisanshop.com.

“Pretty much I’m a one woman show,” she shared. “There’s a lot I enjoy. I’ve enjoyed the friendships that I’ve built with my customers and with the makers. I’ve enjoyed learning about the culture and the textiles, connecting more with the makers and the weavers.

“I’m very, very happy here.”