More than anything else, Todd Clayton considers himself a “maker” of things.
“I love the term ‘maker’ because I’m a woodworker as a foundation, but I love working with all the elements,” he said. “That gives you freedom to be creative. … Coming up with a design in your head, and then figuring out how you’re going to make it. For me, that’s what a maker is.”
Clayton is the key figure behind The Makers Mill, a new business in Somerset that will serve as a hub for those who do things with their hands — art, yes, but more practical works as well.
“It’s multi-faceted; it has many layers to it,” said Clayton of The Makers Mill.
Clayton had been in the construction field years ago, but took a break from it; when he came back, he found a shortage of younger people in the trade.
“I started to think about what’s being done from an innovative stance that inspires young people to make and work with their hands,” he said. “Here in Somerset, there’s such an unbelievable amount of talent of all ages, all demographics, that have the ability and are making a lot of things.”
A northern Kentucky native, Clayton had a woodshop in Monticello, finding his way to this area with the help of John Smithwick, who has partnered with local arts figure Tiffany Finley for Black Mountain Management. Clayton wanted to move his shop and thought Somerset had something unique that was available, and that turned out to be the former Lay-Simpson Furniture store on East Mt. Vernon Street. The longtime furniture seller closed in late 2021.
“Any individual who has a craft and a skill, who is an artisan, an artist of any sort, it’s really hard to be able to afford a brick-and-mortar (location), your own space, and everything that comes with that, and to be profitable and have a business,” said Clayton. “… As a collective, what would happen if we had more of a shared space that had workshops and studios, but also had a showroom to display the art?
“With that, this whole thing really shifted out of being about something I was doing and became something that was about the vendors here,” he added. “I view myself as less of an owner and more of a vendor.”
As a “maker,” Clayton enjoys finding a piece of material, such as a pre-existing table, and working to turn it into something else. He noted that the bar in the Makers Mill is faced with old radiators that came out of a local home, as an example.
“The whole upcycling, repurposing element is huge,” said Clayton, “taking something that already exists and turning it into something else.”
That’s essentially what Clayton and his team did with the Lay-Simpson building, one of the older storefronts still standing in downtown Somerset. It has a long history to it, and Clayton considers himself “lucky” to have had the opportunity to claim this building for Makers Mill.
“Everyone knows the Lay-Simpson building (in this area),” said Clayton. And even though he’s new to the area, he’s made enough connections with people — artists and creators in particular — to find these local treasures important as well.
“My family’s here; this is where we plan on being,” he said. “I’ve made a ton of great friends and people who I’m excited (to work with at Makers Mill). … I know that there’s a lot more people who are still going to reach out, and I’m looking forward to having those conversations.”
Clayton and his team used wood from the building’s upper ceiling to create an attractive entranceway to Makers Mill, as an example of how they repurposed materials in the building itself to create something new and aesthetically pleasing.
“There’s something beautiful about craftsmanship that is inspiring to me that’s found in old buildings,” said Clayton. “What tends to happen over the years, you don’t see that craftsmanship anymore. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in the buildings, but for us, it’s putting that back on display.
“This thing is not a multi-million dollar renovation,” he added. “We’re putting it together to a point where we can open the business, and in partnership with the community, we’re going to keep renovating the building. We’re going to keep growing.”
An important facet of the business is architectural salvage. Clayton said there will be a lot of pieces, particularly from older buildings around town, available in Makers Mill, and also noted that furniture restoration will be a part of it — “Say (someone) finds a table but it’s got a broken leg; well, there’s somebody here that can fix it. Say you’ve got a couch that needs to be reupholstered. Theres somebody here that can fix it. Something you need to weld or whatever, there’s somebody here. You can commission pieces, you can come to shop around and get something cool for your house. It’s all about style and design and making something old new, or giving something old the place that it deserves.”
The facility is almost ready to open. Plans were to have a soft opening next weekend, but that’s will be pushed back likely to the following weekend, that of Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23. Artist studio spaces are ready to go — including Clayton’s woodshop; in fact he did woodwork for the Virginia theater down East Mt. Vernon Street; while fellow artist Bradley Shane Gilmore created the metallic Virginia sign inside — and more studios are being added.
“It’s hard to work out of your home,” said Clayton. “You have to have a designated room, and most artists don’t have that extra space. So we can do it here and make it very affordable.”
There will also be a display showroom for the creations, both for the resident artists and those who might work outside the Makers Mill.
“Some of them are really close to being able to have a business. They’re doing their thing, they’re doing the craft shows,” said Clayton. “In some ways, we’ll be a business incubator for those people. We want them to grow, we want them to eventually have their own store if that’s something they want to do.”
Clayton seeks to be supportive of other existing arts locations in the area, and hates the idea of there being any competition there, he said. He prefers the idea of working together.
The soft opening later this month will feature the Sheltowee Artisans, on Saturday, July 23, in a sort of a pop-up vendors music.
Clayton stressed that the building will have a grand opening later at some point, but at this point, it feels right to just open the doors and welcome people to hang out and be a part of what they’re doing.
“This is a new business,” he said. “We’re always going to be growing. We’re never going to feel like we’re finished. There are still things to do.
“We might as well go ahead and do a soft open just to say, ‘We’re going to turn the lights on and open the doors and the public is welcome,'” he added. “We’ll be set up to make those sales on behalf of the makers.”
The Makers Mill, located at 402 East Mt. Vernon Street, is on Facebook (@somersetmakersmill), and plan to launch a website soon, as well as get a phone contact for the location.
Clayton said he’s excited to be a part of the arts movement here in Somerset, which is growing and developing all the time, and noted that Makers Mill isn’t doing anything that Somerset hasn’t already been doing — they’re just joining in and making something new.
“Somerset to me has been a pleasant surprise,” said Clayton. “Anyone who asks me, I say this is a small town doing big things. It has the talent to do it, it has the vision to do it as well.”