Bethany Clough

Retail Therapy: Tower District shop Studio #340 balances business and family

It’s a feeling to which almost any working parent can relate – the pangs of guilt when leaving a young child behind as they leave for work in the mornings.

Add a small business owner with a recently adopted baby to the equation and the angst is even greater.

Tyler Mackey, 31, knows it all too well. Which is why he’s experimenting with an unusual business model at Studio #340 in the Tower District that will allow him to work, but still spend time with his 3-year-old daughter, Roxy.

The business, at 340 E. Olive Ave., is a boutique, a furniture refinishing and repainting business, a place for craft nights and a studio that’s available for rent to the public.

But more on that in minute. First, Mackey’s backstory.

Mackey and his husband, Andy Mackey, 32, used to run Urban Upcycle, a store in the Tower District that sold refinished furniture and other new and vintage goods. It started in the little brick building near Palm Avenue that Andy’s grandmother owns. That’s where Studio #340 is now, (though Urban Upcycle had moved closer to the heart of Tower for a time).

A few years ago they suddenly became parents.

The Mackeys had considered having a baby before, maybe using in vitro fertilization and a surrogate to carry the baby. But it never felt quite right.

Maybe because a baby would come to them later.

Roxy’s birth mother is Tyler’s foster sister, a woman Tyler grew up with, but who ran away as a teenager and has struggled with drug addiction. She had her first child at 15 and Tyler’s brother and his wife adopted the girl.

At 22, she came home with an 6-week-old baby in her arms – Roxy.

“The first day you hand me a baby and I’m in love,” Tyler says. “The best thing that every happened to me was having this child.”

Her birth mother was still dealing with addiction and the Mackeys eventually adopted Roxy. They tried to run Urban Upcycle and parent their little girl. But it was harder than they expected.

“We were at the shop and Tyler’s mom called and said, ‘Oh my God, she’s crawling’ and we’re here at work missing out,” Andy says.

They decided to close the store – to the disappointment of many customers – so Tyler could be home with Roxy. Andy got a job managing two local Miracle Ear offices to provide a steady income.

And it worked – for a while. Then Tyler wanted to go back to work. He still loved being a dad to Roxy, but he felt like he was losing his identity as an artist.

So he opened the business a few months ago with a group of friends, doing occasional pop-up sales selling all kinds of items.

Things evolved and Tyler ended up spearheading the business. But he still didn’t want to miss any important moments with his daughter, so he’s reinvented it in recent weeks to make it daddy-daughter friendly.

The boutique is open only on weekends – every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. now. Starting March 19, it will be open the same hours on Sundays. The limited hours make it easier for Tyler to spend time with Roxy.

That’s when you’ll find the repainted dressers, stenciled suitcases, vintage lamps, jewelry made by a local woman and old-school paintings for sale.

He’s continuing his refinishing business. He will paint or apply finishes – from metallic to a patina look – to furniture customers bring him. Roxy helps.

“She helps Tyler do the base coat, even at that young age,” Andy says.

Tyler refinishes cupboard doors if customers bring them to him so he can work on them while keeping an eye on her. He comes to customers’ homes to paint the base of the cabinets on the day the doors are reattached.

He also rents out the studio, complete with a workbench on wheels and drop cloths, to people who need a space to work on big projects. He envisions moms who don’t have the space to work on big projects at home working in the studio during the week.

And that’s where “Roxy’s room,” comes in. Parents can bring their kids to play in a little cubby of a room at the business with toys, a chalkboard to draw on, and soon, Disney movies to watch. Some of Roxy’s dresses that she’s outgrown and teddy bears are for sale in the room.

Studio #340 also hosts craft nights – sort of a Tower District version of Color Me Mine or a paint night for people to who want to get crafty. They pay $15 for food and drinks and Tyler teaches them how to create a rustic-looking sign or stencil pavers or flower pots.

They can either pay a little more for supplies and take the item home with them, or leave the item there for Tyler to sell in the shop.

“What I’m trying to create is a community here in Tower,” he says. “I love people who come in and want someone to talk to ... about their project.”

Some may be skeptical of such a plan, but Tyler is optimistic. In fact, he’s downright idealistic.

“When he sets his mind to something he’s going to meet that goal,” Andy says.

Tyler spoke out at City Hall so much about a plan to raise Fresno’s water rates that he inadvertently ended up on an oversight committee that looks at projects costing more than $20 million.

He spews optimism while talking a million miles a minute. A conversation with him will include musings on life: “It’s going to flash before your eyes,” and “everyone is looking for someone to hug.”

That hug thing is standard business practice, by the way. He says customers used to come into Urban Upcycle just to get hugs from Andy – he’s better at it, Tyler says.

And Tyler is optimistic about Studio #340, too.

“What I’m hoping this does is creates a community experience,” he says. “I truly believe that small business’s best days are ahead of us.”

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough