Moving Flint Forward grant helps local artist expand custom jewelry creations at Flint Trading Co.

FLINT, Michigan -- A big part of the experience customers get when they enter Flint Trading Co., owned by Walter McAdow, is simply McAdow himself.

“I’m kind of like this tortured, conflicted artist in a lot of ways, and that’s part of what makes it special here,” McAdow said.

Flint Trading Co., a gallery located at 134 ½ W. Second Street downtown Flint above Comma Bookstore and Social Hub and MagnifiClips in Buckham Alley, features custom jewelry, candles, home goods, art pieces, and other unique treasures from McAdow and other Michigan artists. Visitors are often greeted by Emmett, a friendly golden retriever, and are usually offered an espresso or two by McAdow. But the real magic of the store is on display for customers who go to Flint Trading Co. in search of custom jewelry.

That’s when McAdow invests a significant amount of time to learn about the people and their stories he is making pieces for, often taking detailed notes, going over differences in metals and jewels that highlight elements of the story, and after collecting information, taking time to dream and reflect and see what visions come to him about the jewelry being sought before making it.

“It's all about experience,” he says. “I don't even have an online store still, even with the pandemic and everything. I'm more interested in creating experiences. And I'm not just talking about like the upbeat, positive experience, but like the interpersonal growth experience. This process of actually creating something is really highly personal and hopefully helps people learn something about themselves and their own personal values in the process.”
The gallery features custom jewelry by McAdow and work by other artists, like these wood-turned bowls by Flint artist Russ Dotson.McAdow, in casual conversation, is quick to recite deeply meaningful stories and moments he’s been a part of with customers. One he shared was about a customer who had what remained of a ring that belonged to her mother. The ring had been worn around the neck of her mother’s love in Vietnam, but the man wearing it was killed in battle. McAdow turned what was left of the ring into a necklace.

“To be entrusted with something like that, it’s something highly personal,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that I love to do, and really what we want to do here in the gallery. So, I mean, obviously an online store is a need. But you can’t replicate that personal experience easily in any sort of virtual setting.”

New street-level signage and a permanent sign on the building have helped bring more street traffic into Flint Trading Co.Other stories don’t have the emotional gravity of that one, but they do show a deep care for customers. One regular shopper suggested a candle recycling program to reduce waste for the all-natural candles that Flint Trading Co. sells. So McAdow started a program, and named it after her.  

Although McAdow didn’t make the jump into an online presence like some businesses did during the pandemic, he did get the ability to create even more unique pieces right here in Flint. McAdow received a Moving Flint Forward Grant from the Flint & Genesee Group and General Motors, which allowed him to purchase new equipment and signage to help people better find the store.

The equipment -- a high-quality rolling mill and a kiln that he can program and control temperatures in -- will allow him new ways to work with metals, clay, wood, and other materials to make one-of-a-kind pieces. 

“It (the equipment) will allow me to make really great jewelry, but what it will also allow me to do is something called Mokume Gane, which is a Japanese technique that is similar to damascus steel and swords, but it’s with precious metals,” McAdow said. “Mokume Gane literally means ‘wood grain,’ so this tool allows me to make that here on-site.”

Previously, to create that kind of jewelry, McAdow had to travel to other parts of Michigan to use the necessary equipment. 

In addition to selling custom jewelry and art pieces, he envisions using his space for small private parties and other events as well.
Customers' stories play a big role in McAdow's custom jewelry creations.The signage will also help generate more foot traffic in the store, especially as more events begin to happen downtown Flint and in Buckham Alley. McAdow loves the creative environment that continues to grow downtown and being neighbors with businesses like Comma, MagnifiClips, Buckham Gallery, and others who bring events and crowds to the heart of the city.

“I love how it’s (the alley) getting its own little identity,” McAdow said. “It’s really nice to see more people around, and the variety of businesses. It’s also such a colorful spot with the beautiful murals and art. I love to be here.”

More information about Flint Trading Co. is available on their website, Facebook, or Instagram pages.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.