Mad for it! The story of Maisie & Mac.
Every day we discover a little more about what makes Cupar such a unique destination. In the latest of our business profiles, the owner of Maisie & Mac talks of the inspiration that led her to open what has become one of the town’s best loved shops …
Alison Strachan grew up in northwest Highlands but moved to this neck o’ the woods some 25 years ago. She had a career that was in a totally unrelated field from retail but had always had a passion for arts and crafts – and had sold her own artwork to shops & galleries: “As a result, I got to know lots of talented people in the process.”
“When the building came up for rent it was dusty and unkempt and was being used for storage mostly. It was just crying out for all the windows to be put to good, colourful use.” Alison was ready for a change of direction. That was in 2011. “Several things happened that year that made me decide it was time to take the plunge.” And she did!
Maisie & Mac opened in April 2011. Alison says: “We had a fraction of the stock we now carry. ‘Elegantly minimalist’ as someone put it. Now we focus on providing as much choice as we can pack in to the shop!” Making a career change and stepping into retail to open in Cupar was an undoubted risk. Alison adds: “Lots of people have since told me that they thought I was mad opening such a specialist business in a small town. After telling me how glad they are the shop is still here, they confide that initially they gave it 6 months given the financial & retail climate at the time!” That was eight years ago.
Today, Maisie & Mac is a successful business – and one of Cupar’s most visible, being on the corner of Crossgate and St Catherine Street … beneath the recently refurbished Burgh Chambers. Over the last few years, the Chambers have undergone a transformation – funded in partnership by Fife Council, Fife Historic Buildings Trust, Historic Environment Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The building that houses Maisie & Mac was a key project in the repair and adaptation of the disused Burgh Chambers: the result has been to create a high-quality holiday let apartment.
When you are next passing by, you will recognise the now colourful windows bursting with displays of UK made art & contemporary craft. Alison is proud of the fact that more than 80% of the stock is produced by individuals or small production units. And it is so much more than a gift store. Head down the stairs and you’ll discover the gallery. Alison runs a rolling programme of exhibitions. The current one (that runs until Saturday 8th June) features the work of three artists with very different styles: Lindsay Mathers with powerful equine studies and seascapes, John Davie’s evocative watercolour landscapes and Alison’s own colourful and highly textured atmospheric acrylic paintings.
Alison explains more on the background to her unique shop, saying: “I’m passionate about the beautiful and inventive work that UK-based makers and artists produce.” And it was other artists and their work that drove her: “The fantastic work I knew was ‘out there’ inspired me. I knew it was possible to set up a shop which was different from others in the area, providing an additional platform for makers and additional choice for customers.”
And that’s exactly what Maisie & Mac has achieved. You will find a fabulous range of jewellery, ceramics and textiles, works in wood, metal, slate and glass – as well as prints & small sculpture items. Alison showcases and sells beautifully made work from over 70 artists – including an ethically sourced range of quirky gifts from elsewhere – all chosen with real care and attention.
What makes Maisie & Mac different from other stores? Alison says: “Maisie & Mac is the only Scottish stockist of some of our ranges and I make a point of trying to stock things which are not available elsewhere locally … things which are quirky, interesting and beautifully made.” The shop has an eclectic range which, Alison accepts, would not work in every setting: “Our customers tell us they love what we sell. We’re able to give advice and help with gift buying … and some customers comment that the atmosphere in Maisie & Mac is special. Some are open about the fact that they come to recharge at lunchtime and others enjoy the inclusive chat that happens between and with customers.”
The success of Cupar has enabled Alison to open a second outlet – just over the Tay in Dundee. Her second Maisie & Mac opened before Christmas 2018. Together, she now employs eight – and they are split between the two stores. Three of her team have been with her for several years now: Alison says: “They have been absolutely critical to the success of the business, supporting me by going above & beyond, especially during the setup of the new shop. All creative, very able people, they contribute ideas and really attend to the details and to our customers.”
We asked Alison what she’d list as her greatest personal and business achievements to date. “On a personal level … I am very, very proud of my kind, thoughtful, adventurous children who both have a great sense of humour. On a business level? Giving up a secure, unrelated career to open my own retail business in the middle of the recession was a huge step for me. The fact that Maisie & Mac in Cupar is a success with a large, regular and still growing base of customers who tell us that they rely on us to provide interesting gifts they won’t find elsewhere is a source of pride. Being able to open a second shop in Dundee is the icing on the cake.” Alison adds: “It’s a great feeling, and really quite humbling, that so many of our customers in Cupar are vocal about the fact that they are invested in the business thriving here. The very regular positive comments make it a great work environment.”
Alison’s passion for Cupar extends to her voluntary support for a number of different community groups and projects. She chairs ABCD, Cupar’s Business Association and has been instrumental in the groundwork that led to the development and launch of CuparNow. She adds: “This scheme has the potential to put Cupar on the digital map and to help businesses and voluntary organisations in the town promote the fantastic range of services, products and events we have here. Exciting times ahead!”
As with all our profiles, we ask what they’d recommend for someone visiting Cupar for the first time – or for the first time in a long time: Alison says: “Walk round the town and look up at our lovely – some newly restored – buildings and explore the closes where there are many less visible businesses. You then have a wide choice of venues for excellent coffee and cake!”
Maisie & Mac is supporting the Cupar Arts Trail in June. Click on the image for details of the events that are planned …
Follow any of the links below to find more on the arts and crafts available at Maisie & Mac.