It’s hard to argue with Martha Stewart (and definitely ill-advised): Made in America is a “good thing.” The domestic diva is honoring rising stars among the country’s small business owners and Lincoln Square’s Jenny Beorkrem, owner of Ork Posters, is in the running for Stewart’s Audience Choice Award.
“The email actually went to my spam box,” Beorkrem says of the notification from Stewart’s camp that she was one of 100 finalists in the “American Made” competition. Now she’s in a horse race to drum up enough support to propel her business to the top vote-getting spot, with the winner earning a spread in Martha Stewart Living magazine, a trip to New York City, and $10,000 to further her enterprise.
Center Square Journal caught Beorkrem in the midst of moving her operation from its cramped quarters at 2003 W. Montrose Ave. to roomier digs at Ravenswood and Berteau. Not bad for a business that started on Etsy in 2007 and has grown exponentially during a recession. “I pretty much haven’t existed in a healthy economy,” says Beorkrem.
Even if you’re not familiar with the name Ork Posters, you’d likely recognize Beorkrem’s handiwork. She’s the designer behind those graphic maps of Chicago sold in shops like Sacred Art and Foursided.
“I had seen more vintage-looking neighborhood maps,” she says, none of which aligned with her more modern sensibilities. She spent months working on a typographic treatment that proved an instant hit.
“I had sold like three maps when someone asked, ‘Can you do Brooklyn?’” Yes she could. Beorkrem quickly expanded her offerings to include maps of Seattle, New Orleans and Philadelphia among others. “I try to add about five [cities] a year,” she says, mainly based on customer requests. She just finished a design of Detroit, which she has high hopes for, with Atlanta likely next in the pipeline. Chicago, though, remains far and away her best seller. “The neighborhood makeup is such a part of what the city is,” she says.
Beorkrem runs her growing business with help from Mary Beth Kapp and an intern. Kapp and Beorkrem were co-workers at a design company; Beorkrem lured her colleague away to assist with Ork.
“Working for and with a friend is super fun,” says Kapp. “It’s rare, probably, to like your boss.” Along with a laid-back atmosphere, the greatest advantage to being essentially a two-person enterprise, she adds, is “more direct communication.” No need to set up meetings to review concepts–the two share a desk and their computer monitors are just inches apart.
While Beorkrem started out by inking the posters herself, printing now takes place offsite, though not, she emphasizes, offshore.
“There certainly is enticement to make something at one-tenth the cost by sending it overseas,” she says, but Beorkrem is committed to using Chicago vendors. “As a designer, I want the control,” she explains. “I mix all of the ink, order the paper and take it to the printer. It lets me be involved in the creative process.”
Acknowledging that Ork’s potential has a natural limit–there are only so many cities with strong neighborhood identities–Beorkrem is already thinking about what comes next. She has a year left on the lease for the Montrose space and is “95 percent sure” of a plan to turn the shop into a retail location that would showcase the work of like-minded artists (including Kapp’s husband Ryan) and maybe carry home goods with a similar city-based theme.
For now, though, she’s focused on getting out the vote for the Martha Stewart contest. Ork’s bread and butter are online sales and reaching Stewart’s international audience would be a massive marketing boon. “Being in the magazine would be amazing,” says Beorkrem, who thinks she has a leg up on competitors as not just an American-made product but having an American subject.
Voting runs through Sept. 24; one vote per email address is permitted per day.