by Sean Miner
For the last three years, Mama’s Happy has graced the north side of Watertown road in Independence just east of Laketown Parkway.
The shop’s owner and founder, Amanda Ficek, stated that the shop “specializes in the upcycling and repurposing of other people’s castoffs.” The stock isn’t new, but it isn’t antique either. The castoffs Ficek mentioned are either changed into something new entirely (upcycled) or repurposed into a new use, different from what was originally intended.
The shop took up residence in what had been a creamery, decades ago. Above that shop, in a space that has certainly been repurposed itself, lives Ficek and her family of five.
Some patrons may be unaware of the residence upstairs, but some have been begging for a tour since the shop opened.
“I realized if I waited for the perfect time, I’d never do it,” said Mama’s Happy owner and founder, Amanda Ficek. With the shop directly below the residence filled with interesting pieces of furniture and decor, it should come as no surprise that Ficek’s home is strikingly furnished.
From March 11-14, the Ficek residence went on display for tours to the public. The tours were free, but attendees were encouraged to donate to a local women’s shelter. These donations totaled $900 after all the tours were said and done.
Up the stairs, a home rather unlike any other was showcased. The tour was guided by one of the Mamas on the business side of things, Sherry Nielson. It wasn’t just some of the furniture that was repurposed; The Ficeks repurposed the entire top half of the building into a living space. Floors were torn out and refinished with wood, cabinets were added to line a spacious kitchen, and a window was even added to what would become a bedroom.
Past that, many of the materials used in the extensive renovation were upcycled. Two chandeliers hung above the kitchen counter and dining table, made of light bulbs encased in jars and bottles. The end piece for the kitchen cabinets was a mounted door, prompting Nielson to announce that “Amanda is in love with doors.”
The whole space was filled with old wood, from the floors to the great intersecting beams that separated the kitchen from the living and dining rooms. A coffee table that more resembled a miniature antique wagon than a table was parked in the living room, just a few feet from a flat screen television mounted on the wall.
These juxtapositions of the old and the new characterized the space.
Intentionally rustic and faded walls, pieces of furniture and décor were inches from a sleek modern refrigerator and stove. Contrasting as though the elements may be, none feel out of place.
Of course, things were a bit tidied up from what they usually might be.
“We don’t live like this,” said Ficek before the tour group even headed up the stairs. “It has never been this beautiful.”
The shop below is a bit more eclectic than the living space above, especially with the latter in pristine condition for the tours. Filled with hundreds of pieces of décor and furniture, the shop features work from around 10 different contributors. Each artist has her own space, and each works a shift when the store is open.
Ficek described how the shop, originally opening in Mound in 2010, filled a need for all of the women involved.
“I couldn’t produce enough to fill the whole store, and they were producing, but didn’t have a platform,” said Ficek. At first, it took a lot of work to find producers willing to cast their lot in the store, but nowadays there’s a waiting list for furniture and décor contributors.
The original location in Mound was only open for a year and a half when the owner of the building sold the space. Ficek said that at that point, the “whole mission” was getting the store going in Mound, but it would soon prove impossible to find another location in that community.
Ficek asked herself if she wanted to keep the store going if it wasn’t going to be in Mound. After a lot of soul-searching, she started looking for another location for the shop.
She found the Watertown Road property, but there was just one problem. The property was for sale, rather than for rent, and Ficek didn’t think it was quite viable to buy the property for a business that hadn’t yet celebrated its second anniversary.
However, the Ficek family had been renting and living at a hobby farm for the past few years, and were hunting for a permanent residence. Amanda and her husband, Scott, realized that the former creamery might represent a solution to both problems.
“We’re just enough of risk-takers to do it,” said Amanda.
Patrons of the shop in the first few months at the current location were often curious about the construction noises coming from above the space. Those sounds were the Ficek family home being built.
It was the right move, both for the family and for the business. According to Ficek, business has picked up, as much as quadrupling since the move from Mound.
“It’s out in the country, but easy to get to,” she said. She described Independence as just far enough out of the city that people can come have their “day in the country,” but also still very accessible.
Ficek estimated that the building totals around 5,000 square feet, with that space fairly evenly divided between the shop and home above. She said that at first, the shop had “a little bit of everything,” but with time and success, the selection has narrowed and refined.
Two other locations of Mama’s Happy have sprung up, one in St. Louis Park and the other on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Within a year or two, each has outgrown its original space and had to find a larger location in the same locale.
Ficek said that she doesn’t have any concrete plans for any additional locations, but mentioned that she is “always looking.” She said that new locations require a “perfect mix” of the right building in the right community, given the unique business model.
The Independence location also offers occasional workshops. Many of these workshops center around certain furniture painting techniques that are key to the upcycling and repurposing effort, though with so many talented people producing content for the store, other types of creative efforts have been featured in workshops as well.
Ficek said that especially for her business, word-of-mouth and social media have been essential to the shop’s success.
“I’m constantly directing people to our Facebook page,” said Ficek, going on to say that she didn’t know how the business would work without an online presence.
Ficek’s family includes her husband and their three children. Scott Ficek is self-employed, working in real estate and rental consulting and management, as well as information technology.
Claire and Kate, 12 and 8 respectively, have rooms adjoined by a small space by a window. That space abruptly transitions from a painted floor extending from Kate’s room, to bare wood in Claire’s, per the girls’ preferences.
Their brother, 11-year-old Charlie, occupies a room, to which he proudly added a toy basketball hoop, according to Nielson. All three children attend Westonka schools.
Ficek reported that the community has embraced the business and helped it to succeed.
“I am so incredibly appreciative of how kind everyone has been,” said Ficek.
For more information about Mama’s Happy, visit mamashappy.com, or visit them on Facebook.