It can be difficult to find that one perfect item for yourself or a loved one – that special something you haven’t already seen on a dozen other people or plastered across Instagram – but not at Work the Metal. This sprawling retail store specializes in everything from jewelry and clothing to home decor, kitchen gadgets, gourmet chocolates and even items for children and men. Work the Metal has something to spark the interest of anyone who walks through their doors.
The building, now called Butchertown Market, is a circa 1888 soap factory turned Metal Works manufacturing company, the world’s largest manufacturer of metal dustpans, in fact. In 2003, Work the Metal boutique made their debut in the Butchertown neighborhood as a pioneer of sorts to the soon-to-be trendy area. Their ever-changing inventory paired with their hip location, partnerships with other local businesses and a brand-new wine bar makes this space a must-see Louisville destination.
Work the Metal co-owners Andy Blieden and Jack Mathis have worked together for over 25 years. Andy purchased the building when it was the home of Metal Works Manufacturing Company, where Jack served as the chief financial officer. Ten years later, Jack came to Andy with the idea of opening a retail location, something he had dreamed of for years.
“Jack told me his idea, and I loved it,” Andy says. “He has always been somewhat of an expert on retail because he shops a lot and has an amazing eye for detail. He had this idea of what he thought the retail experience should be. Part of that stemmed from experiences when he did not get good customer service but also came from the places he loved that were inspirational to him. I think he amalgamated all of those things and made them his own. He knew what he wanted to accomplish. So, from the very start, Work the Metal has been focused on the customer experience.”
What began as a small 400-square-foot space in Butchertown Market with one employee and exclusively selling metal pieces has evolved into an over 12,000-square-foot retail experience with a 15-person staff.
“When we first started, people would come in to shop, and I would ask them to please tell their friends about Work the Metal, and they would say, ‘No! This is my place, and I get great stuff here!’” Andy says.
Due to the shop’s strategically limited inventory, Jack says he often sees customers suffer from non-buyer’s remorse rather than the typical buyer’s remorse.
“We don’t buy more than two or three of a necklace or a pair of earrings, so that it’s unique and customers don’t feel like they’re going to see 12 other people in the same necklace,” Jack says. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and I may not be able to re-order it. That keeps things fresh.”
In addition to items curated specifically for Work the Metal, they partner with various local businesses to sell their products in-store. Moss Hill Bath and Body Collection, Cellar Door Chocolates and Bourbon Barrel Foods are manufactured in Butchertown Market, creating 100% Kentucky-proud, Butchertown-made products.
“It’s all Kentucky-crafted, so it’s this great idea of having stuff made here inside the building and sold here,” Andy says. “Everybody here has banded together for the greater good, because what’s good for us is good for them. It’s definitely a culture we’ve created.”
In addition to these local partnerships, Work the Metal often partners with local restaurants to provide food for in-store events, including their annual Derby Fashion Show. In the past few years, they’ve begun carrying clothing, something many customers had been requesting. In 2017, Jack had the idea to host a fashion show as a way to promote their new arrivals after seeing the success of other local fashion shows. The first show attracted over 300 people and has become an annual event for the store. This year, they partnered with a number of Louisville businesses including Ballotin Whiskey, Butchertown Grocery, Butchertown Pizza Hall, Macaron Bar, Copper and Kings, Bourbon Barrel Foods, Cellar Door Chocolates, Old 502 Winery and Hi-Five Doughnuts to provide refreshments for the event.
“People come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s what we want to showcase in our fashion show,” Jack says. “We want to show that we have clothes for all body types, and I ask women of all ages to model as well. It’s a neighborhood event that is very Butchertown-centric.”
And the store continues to grow. A typical customer can spend up to two or three hours browsing the store to ensure they enjoy every detail. Some customers even sacrifice their lunch breaks as a chance to enjoy this shopping haven.
“People started coming in asking if we had anything to eat or drink, or they would have their cups from other places because they knew they would be here a while,” Jack says. “When the space became available, I figured why don’t we offer some dining options so when people come in they can shop and maybe sit down and have a drink or a bite to eat with a friend as well. It creates more of an experience so people can stay longer.”
This customer need sparked the idea for their newly debuted wine bar, which opened on August 3. Continuing the trend of local partnerships, Work the Metal partnered with local nonprofit Scarlet’s Bakery to provide baked goods and other small plate options to customers. Scarlet’s Bakery is an organization focused on providing employment opportunities to women formerly exploited and trafficked in the Louisville community. In addition to this partnership, the wine bar features food from Paul’s Fruit Market and recipes from Bourbon Barrel Foods. Refreshments include a variety of wine and beer for the over-21 set, milk and fresh-squeezed orange juice from Paul’s for children, soda and coffee from local coffee shop Red Hot Roasters.
Between the eccentric products, awesome local partnerships and a wine bar to boot, Work the Metal has become a Louisville staple over the past 15 years. Luckily, that will not be changing anytime soon. They anticipate continued expansion in their current location, the Butchertown destination the city has grown to love.
“The fact of the matter is none of our products are normal, and the store has always been a bit counterintuitive, but it has been so much fun to be associated with Work the Metal,” Andy says. “I’m excited to see what Jack comes up with next.”
Work the Metal is located at 1201 Story Ave., Louisville, KY 40206. They are open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, reach them at (502) 584-2841 or visit workthemetal.com.
Images by Emily Gahafer unless otherwise noted.
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