Makers in the Mall

My local mall lost a large, two story corner-store. Sad that they made it so far into the economy dive just to die now. On Main Street of the same town, half the shops are closed, including a knitting store.

I think that making the large empty retail space into a maker/hacker space would be an interesting idea. The food court is nearby, there is already a Radio Shack, Book store & Sears (hand tools) on site.

A maker/hacker space is a space where you can get together with other people with common interests and make stuff. There is tools and materials available on location that you may not have at home. You pay a monthly fee ‘dues’ to support the space.

Member Area

On the 2ndfloor I would put the main maker/hacker space. The center area, where the escalators & elevator go would be the common area. Couches & tables for sitting and talking smack about each other’s projects. Also rows of work benches for doing various projects.

Equipment and tools with safety considerations (basically all power tools) would be behind a glass wall where members can ‘badge’ their way in once they have been safety certified for all gear in that room. This would allow people at the mall to see what’s going on, but be kept away from the power-saws. (hey, insurance & liability is a big thing) This would also help with noise from things like the wood working power tools from drowning out the people doing musical electronics. The space is big enough to have dozens of ‘shops’ set up like this. Glass fronts so people can safely watch all the making. The glassed in workshops would be a fire-break in case somebody starts something on fire. It would also keep the saw-dust out of the pottery wheels. I’d have a couple of classroom/conference rooms as well.

Some of the ‘shops’ I’d see having:

  • Hand tool only wood working
  • Basic power tools wood working
  • Advanced power tools wood working
  • pottery area with kiln
  • electronics lab
  • programming lab
  • basic metal shop
  • intermediate metal shop (basic power tools)
  • welding booths
  • blacksmithy
  • sewing shop
  • demonstration kitchens
All the workshops would be RFID/barcode badge controlled. Each member has a ‘reputation’ based on how they interact with other members as well as a ‘patch’ system where they can show off all the things they have done (think girl/boyscouts). Members would need to get safety certified before their badge will let them into that shop.  Hand tools would be ‘checked in/out’ with your badge kinda like a self-check-out at a store. Power tools would be badge/card activated like a slot machine to both verify ‘safety certification’ as well as to gauge the rate of  any ‘consumables’. Logging tool usage would help control people from using up $1k in welding gasses a month. They’d have to buy any extra stuff that they used. Shop time/tools could be reserved ahead of time with your badge. People can also ‘rate’ the shop/tool ‘state’. If there is a problem, such as a shop was not left clean, a tool was worn out or damaged you could report the issue and the previous user would get ‘dinged’. Reported safety violations or failure to clean the work space could prevent you from renewing your membership or result in higher dues. Things like worn out saw blades would be ‘graced’ if they are at their expected end of lifetime, but if it was new and you ate a nail with it, you bought it (debited against your consumables alotment.)
There could be ‘tiered’ membership. Basic membership gets you full access to all common areas and most work areas. Work areas that have a high-cost of consumables would require a ‘premium’ membership that you could opt into on a month by month basis or maybe an a-la-carte usage- like the welding stations.
Non Member Area
On the main floor, I would have many small ‘crafting boutiques’ and repair shops.
The repair services would be a common location where people could bring their stuff to get it fixed. Stuff like a jewelry repair shop, electronics repair, small machine shop for metalwork, carpenter for wood-work repair, upholsterer, electrician (fixing lamps, etc.). Again, these would be glass fronted workshops where people can watch craftsmen do their thing – Like the bakery with all their mixers & such in the window. The craftsmen won’t have to stop and answer a million questions while they work. They could have a common ‘register’ person or their own. They can also sell their products in the ‘craft shop’ located on the floor by the main entry to the mall.
The boutiques would would be small specialized shops that may or may not have their own work area. They serve 2 purposes, non-members can buy and build right there and the members ‘upstairs’ have a ready source of raw materials. I could see things like a pottery glazing place, stained glass, beadery, hobby shop(s), various craft stores, etc.
A store like a bead store could have a few tables outside the store where people could sit and make the bracelets on benches that are designed to catch beads that rolled away. The beadwork isn’t happening inside the store so inventory is less likely to ‘disappear’ but the instant gratification of making something also occurs right there. Also the item can be finished with a quick purchase of that 1 more item inside the store.
The ‘craft shop’ could sell items on consignment from both the vendors on the main floor as well as ‘stuff’ made by the members. Possibly also stuff from ‘outside’.
There could be a exhibition ‘hall’ – display cases to showcase member & vendor’s creations. There could also be a demonstration arena for public presentations, robot demonstrations, etc.

Aquaponics Store Idea

I’ve been looking at all the empty storefronts on main street Dundee on my way to work lately. I’ve been imagining having my own store front in one of those.

I’d sell Aquaponics stuff.

Ready made sets from tiny little things for apartment kitchens to fairly large backyard setups. I’d sell all the various parts, plumbing, bulkhead seals, containers, lights, whatnot. I’d carry some fish –  a few hardy ornimentals and some the pets stores don’t stock well locally and also the ‘eater’ fish such as tilapia, perch, etc. I’d also have a bunch of plants and seeds. Ones that grow well in AP systems that will give people the instant gratification of pretty plants now, and the economy of starting from seed.

I think a big thing I’d sell is pre-cycled media. One of the hardest parts of getting aquaponics up and running is getting the system ‘cycled’ – have the beneficial bacteria colonies all grown and doing their thing.

If people bought a ready to run kit from me, they’d get the booklet I’m writing, the tank(s), grow beds, cycled media, a few live plants, a dose of organic fertilizer to feed the cycled media, and a coupon for the balance of their plants and fish. The coupon effective date will be based on the system size so that the system will be correctly cycled when they go to add fish.

You see, I’d be setting people up for success, not to sell crap they don’t need (like 3-4 sets of fish). The only time I want to see them again is to redeem their fish/plant coupons, to get more parts for more systems (it’s addicting!) and when they bring their friends in to get their friends hooked on the hobby.


I’d make Aquaponics stuff.

I’d sell sets and kits that I’ve assembled. I’d make a bunch of the various bits and bobs that are needed, like the tank top stands to hold the grow beds, bell siphons, etc.. I’d give the plans away for free.

I’d have a 3d printer so I can make custom clips, fittings, and so forth.

I’d have a small ‘workshop’ with a few basic tools such as a PVC pipe cutter, reamers, drill press with bits, etc. so people who don’t have some of these specialty tools can use them at the store to make things they way they need them.


I’ve a few ideas on how I want to lay out the store.

The weirdest part will that I will have irregular hours. I’d have a rolling 4 day schedule where I stayed open late one night a week, and by late, I mean 10-12pm or something like that. By rolling the 4 day late nights over a 5 day week, I would be open late at least once a given named day per month. A HDTV with a calendar, answering machine auto-attendant, and website would show the hours.

I’d have a few interactive displays where people can get their hands wet. Bell siphons are one of those things that are really hard to understand in their simplicity. There would be a  set up where you can try different sizes of bell siphons with different amounts of water flow.

The fish would have a full data sheet printed out in large print for each species including details on picking fish in good health. With life sized photos. Attached to the tank that the fish are actually in. There would be a date as to when the last shipment came in.

I’d have half a dozen TVs hooked up to computers with proximity sensors that would turn on when you stood in front of a display with lots of options. It would explain your choices to you, and things to consider for your purchase. Maybe I would have a kinect and make the displays interactive so somebody could get to the details they are interested in.

  • Explain lighting options – HID, florescent, LED, incandescent
  • Explain the biological processes going on
  • Explain water parameters and how things like PH affect plant nutrient uptake
  • Explain how some plants may work well in some systems and not others
  • Explore the different options for grow beds
  • Explore the different options for siphons

I’d have bins of plumbing fittings and small sections of pipe. I’d sell pipe by the inch. A lot of stuff needs short pieces of pipe, and it’s really annoying to put a 10′ section of pipe into a compact car when you only needed a few 6″ pieces.

There would be QRcodes EVERYWHERE. They would also link to real information! Screw the marketing BS that the vendors give me, I’m writing my own datasheets, instructions, pros & cons, etc. People can come in and self help while in the store if they want, or they can get assistance, and the store employee can show them the details on the tablet they are carrying around.


I’d hire a few part time people.

Each employee is in charge of 1 running display in the store. They also are given a small kit to take home as a hiring bonus and are expected to run it while they are employed. They get annual bonuses in stuff and samples and new products are seeded out to them. It’s important that they know their stuff, and how else to do that then with experience.

I am thinking a couple of little old ladies and some codgers who know the local gardening. I’d let them pick their schedules, and hire in to fill in any gaps. The stuff these people know is invaluable. I want access to it!

I’d hire some high-schoolers.  The local schools FFA chapter would be a good place to start, maybe 4H too. The energy that they bring is great. They pick up on new stuff very fast. That and somebody needs to get the stuff off the top shelf so old-man-rivers doesn’t break a hip.

I won’t be open on the weekend unless the employees wanted the hours. 2 employees can schedule the hours they want to be open on the weekends.


I’d sell stuff online.

I am a web-geek. I will sell stuff online. I think the cool thing I would offer though would be in-store pickup, even after hours. I’d have a set of PO boxes with codeable punch-code locks. I can place an order into a box and ‘ship’ the box number and access code. The person can come anytime and pick up the order, even if the store is closed.

I like catalogs that actually have information in them and not just a list of product numbers and pricing. The website wouldn’t be a list of products, it would be a treasure trove of information, tutorials, options, comparison lists that all allow you to buy the things being talked about.

The site would be based on ‘here’s the things you need and here’s how to do it. You can get the stuff locally or buy it from me online.



I’d work with the local schools to have an Aquaponics system in any classroom that wanted one. I’d work with the teachers & students on learning science and have them write ‘grant requests’, make/donate the parts that they need that they can’t otherwise source, and feature the results in the store. I’d totally love to see turtleponics!

I’d work with the local pet stores and plant nurseries to see if I can offer my customers coupons for their locations for stuff that I don’t carry.  The back of the couple would list a bunch of things that would work well in Aquaponics context, and the coupon is good for those items. Maybe I could get a display at their location and sell Ready-to-Run systems at their locations.

I’d be at the local ‘green’ expo and farmers markets.



I’d want a location where I could have a greenhouse. Lots of big greenhouses would be great, because then I would sell plants and produce, but even a small greenhouse or two would be great. I would show that you can grow in the winter here in Chicagoland.



This is all a pipe dream at the moment.

I can’t transition from what I am doing today into a store – I’d loose the house in the time it took to get the store pulling in foot traffic.


Shorted out substation.

Just my luck, I get up early, to play with my new server uptime monitor I made last night, and the change in pase caused me to leave my cell phone at home when I left for work.

I stop at 7-Eleven for my cheese danish and Arizona Green Tea, and wouldn’t you know it, the electrical substation across the street blows up! I don’t have a camera with me to take pictures.

It was actually pretty cool watching it. I saw a cable start to fall from a power pole and was thinking it was going to fall into the street. About that time, it hit the fence around the substation. I was inside the store, with the doors closed, and I felt the concussion of that first short. A really nice flash that extended out across the substation. Loud booming, lights in the store flickering. Lots of fun.

The cable swung out, away from the fence, and the lights came on in the store. The cable swung back into the fence, and I got a repeat of the show. No concussion like with the first short, but a good light show. The lights went out in the store again.

It did this about 3 times, and then the power went out in the store. Everybody was talking about it in the store. My only comment was ‘my server just went down’. There was a private security person getting her morning caffiene, she called 911 on her cell. The backup systems didn’t come up in the store, so the store manager ushered us out, letting the people with coffee just go, without paying. I paid for my tea and donut with cash. They locked the door behind me.

My boss drove by just as a fire truck was showing up, and he said it shorted out again. Another gal watched a different substation short out – she called in.

I was quite happy to see the fountain under the building (That’s right, my buiilding is built OVER a reflecting pool for some strange reason) was running when I pulled in. The poweer fickered a lot. One gal thought she did something, as she plugged the coffee machine in at the same time the power went out.

I hope they don’t have to bring the whole substation down in order to repair the downed line.

I wish I had my cell phone so I could have taken a photo!