For shop owner and curator Erin McGill, Golden Weather Goods is not just a “happy place” — it’s a novel endeavor, a “big experiment.” After years in social work and retail, McGill is invested in changing the way we think about the products we buy and the stories they tell. As the shop’s tagline — slowly made goods, warmly chosen — suggests, GWG encourages us to slow down, think, and appreciate, to support local and independent artists, and to usher in a new retail reality defined by thoughtful relationships between maker, curator, and buyer. It’s not just about pretty things in a pretty shop (though I’d be lying if I said GWG wasn’t one of the prettiest shops I’ve been in), it’s about making time and space to cultivate a kinder narrative in our lives.
This week, I had the privilege of meeting McGill, hearing about Golden Weather’s origins, touring the shop, and learning about her plans for the future.
Smile Politely: Tell me the origin story of Golden Weather Goods.
Erin McGill: This was a vision I had years ago and just wasn’t in a position to make happen quite yet (I have a very young family). I think this is a really good community for small businesses, especially those who cater to independent artists or makers. I saw the success of Small Business Saturday, even in the thick of the pandemic, and thought “Okay, I really need to get this mission going!” And I had the opportunity to do that, so, I just went for it. We saw the space, and I jumped on it. So far, we’ve had great reception. I think that people are wanting more retail downtown — especially things that are a little bit off the beaten path — or a way to support independent brands or artists. That’s what I’m bringing to Champaign.
SP: What do you love most about running this business?
McGill: To see something that I’ve curated from an independent brand, from an independent maker I’ve talked with via email or Instagram. It’s really satisfying to see somebody else come in and love that thing as much as I do. It’s fun to see that walk back out the door knowing that that piece is going to bring joy to somebody else…also, what you’re supporting when you make that purchase. You’re supporting that maker, you’re supporting my shop, and you’re supporting the community as a whole.
SP: On your website you talk about your “aversion” to Midwest winters and how the goal of Golden Weather is this warmth, comfort, light, and creativity.
McGill: Yes, so I developed the brand in the fall of 2020, and I felt like we were all sort of reaching for brighter days, better things, and at the same time we were finding those little comforts in our house and how much they meant to us again, that maybe we had forgotten about since we were never home. Just that feeling that you get having a piece in your home, being able to talk about that piece and say, “Oh, this is from this artist,” or “This was handmade here,” or “This was a local artist!” Even tending to a plant, lighting a candle, just those small things…I wanted to bring that warmth into what we do here and the goods on the shelves. My makers do a great job of displaying that.
SP: It sounds like it’s a lot about thoughtfulness on multiple levels, too.
McGill: Yeah, I think people are wanting a kinder narrative for the things that they buy. We’re kind of swinging away from the big box stores. And it’s impossible to shop small all the time — you know the “shop small” message should not be a vehicle for shame, which it sometimes can be, because it’s not possible to shop small all the time — but when you can, it’s important to do that, and you often find that the pieces are more meaningful, that the gift that you give has a story behind it. That was my goal for Golden Weather.
SP: How do you choose your makers?
McGill: So, of course Instagram is just a wealth of extremely talented people, so sometimes I’ll see something there and end up falling down a rabbit hole. Some really good resources that I’ve found are Buy from a Black Woman — that is one of the best retail rabbit holes to fall down — and that’s where I’ve found a handful of my makers. I also work with two wholesale sites, Faire and Bulletin, both of whom cater to independent brands and makers. It’s nice that I can look for things that are specifically handmade, or use sustainable materials, or are woman-owned, things like that.
I try to keep things somewhat regional to the Midwest, because we have a kind of “Midwest modern” vibe, but I have a good representation from across the country, and a couple makers from Canada. But I love finding a good Midwest maker….Represent!
SP: Are there products or pieces that you want to have in the shop but haven’t yet?
McGill: Definitely, more local artists is something that I’m seeking out. I would love to, in general, put more local makers on the shelves. And that was my goal: to get started, get the word out about what’s going on here so people can feel out the vibe, and then approach people that way. And still, we’re relatively unknown. I missed Boneyard Arts this year because I wasn’t open yet. I’d signed the lease and we were painting the place, but I wasn’t open. I’m hoping next year we can start going to that!
SP: In addition to having more local artists and attending festivals, what are your hopes and dreams for Golden Weather Goods?
McGill: I would love to open up a second location someday, maybe with a little bit different vibe than this. I would love to open another kids’ shop with cool sustainable toys and apparel. My short-term goal is to start being profitable enough to hire somebody. I have so many people saying “I want to help!” And I say, “okay, but I can’t pay you yet!” I want to get to the point where we’re busy enough and have so much going on that I could really use the help. That’s the aspirational goal right now, just to put it on the map.
I would love to host workshops with local makers, making pottery or working with macramé makers in town that are really good. I would really love to just to drag people downtown. You know, we have our mainstays that have been here for years that are really, really helpful in moving traffic around down here, plus The Literary, Firedoll, we get people from Ten Thousand Villages or Circles, too. It’s so cool to be a part of that.
SP: Is there anything else you want to share with readers?
McGill: My hope for what we have in the store is that when you come in, you maybe don’t buy all of the things but buy something that really is meaningful to you. You know, there’s a saying that you don’t need to buy more things, you just need to buy better things. I think that that’s something to take to heart. Things that will last, things that are well-made, and if you’re giving a gift, that’s an amazing gift to give. People talk about the “new generation of heirlooms,” and I hope we can be a spot for those pieces that become heirlooms that get passed down.
All the makers sold at Golden Weather are on Instagram, so when you buy something from the shop, shout them out! According to McGill, the best way to let the makers know that you love what they’re making is to buy their stuff.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the shop’s busiest times. If you’re looking for a quieter shopping experience (and some quality time with McGill to gush about the makers and their beautiful products) try a Tuesday afternoon.
Jewelry can be made-to-order and in custom sizes. McGill is happy to take customer requests for items that may have sold out and/or help coordinate shipping of items from her makers to customers or the shop. She also enjoys doing personal shopping appointments and helping with event planning. Contact her through the website or Instagram if you’re interested.
I was lucky enough to get a tour of the shop from McGill — from the kids’ section to the three hilarious card makers to the extensive collection of homewares and kitchen goods, it’s all gorgeous. Here are some of the makers she highlighted in our talk:
Jewelry – Sun & Selene (Richmond, VA) and Yam (New York)
Bandanas, pins, etc. – All Very Goods (Washington D.C., and one of McGill’s first brands)
Kids – Polished Prints (St. Louis, formerly local)
Incense – Alight (Philadelphia)
Local artists – Clara de la Fuente, Megan Hinds, and Tamara Aardsma
Apothecary – Wild Botanicals (Chicago), Soap Distillery, (Chicago)
Candles –Terra Simply (St. Louis, and McGill’s very first maker) and The Koop (New York)
Ceramics – Earthen (San Francisco) and Gravesco Pottery (Indianapolis)
French presses & pour overs – Yield (St. Augustine, FL)
Puzzles – Ordinary Habit (Doylestown, PA)
Golden Weather Goods
41 East University Ave
Tu-F 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sa 12 to 6 p.m.
Su 12 to 3 p.m.