The Crafter’s Library, located at 9 East Figueroa Street, is the newest resident of downtown’s La Arcada shopping mall, taking over the former location of Peanuts Maternity & Kids. It’s a large space with windows all around and dedicated crafting areas. “I can’t overstate how much I want this to become a community space,” said owner Andrew Rawls. “It’s big; it’s bright; it’s unique.”
Rawls graduated from UCSB in 2012 and then lived in Washington D.C., where he ran a business conducting luxury tours of the city. In 2019, he moved to U.S. Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and he served as a youth director for children of active-duty service members and contractors. “I knew I always wanted to come back to Santa Barbara, though,” he said.
His boss in the Marshall Islands was a seamstress who loved to quilt and sew, and she taught Rawls how to do it, too. “Being on a tiny island with not a lot else to do, I would go to her room and sew for a couple of hours at a time,” he said. “It was cathartic, and I really loved doing that.”
With a population of close to 150 teens and only a square mile of land between them and the open sea, Rawls turned to arts and crafts as a way to unite the teen community and keep them occupied. In 2020, after his contract ended, he had plans to return to D.C. to continue operating tours, but they were halted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rawls partnered with a nonprofit organization based in Ventura called the Small Business Development Center, where he was matched with a mentor and assisted with developing a business plan. Seven months later, he’s on the verge of opening his doors.
The Crafter’s Library will offer memberships that range from single-day to annual passes. Annual pass holders will also have the opportunity to sell the items that they make at the space.
Staff will teach about two-thirds of the crafting classes, and the remaining one-third will be led by local artisans that Rawls has invited. Rawls has already set up sewing machines, Cricut cutters, 3D printers, and laser etchers, and he plans on evolving the space with the “desires of the members.”
Part of what makes The Crafter’s Library exciting for Santa Barbara is that it offers a new downtown activity that isn’t focused around food or alcohol. “You can come and be social,” Rawls said. “You can spend a significant amount of time and not feel rushed. You can talk to new people or bring your friends and spend time with them, all without the pressure of eating and drinking.”
Rawls, who identifies as a gay man, also expressed the very important need for a BIPOC and queer-friendly space in a sober environment. Many gathering spaces in Santa Barbara are at bars, which can be difficult for members of the community dealing with sobriety and substance abuse.
In addition, Rawls has dreams of using the area on the second floor as a teen center where “teens can be teens but stay out of trouble.” He’s started conversations with Santa Barbara High School’s VADA program to teach teens the practical side of their artistry, including things like contract negotiations and how to value their art.
Rawls has been hard at work forging connections with other local businesses and organizations, including B-Cycle, The Friends of the Library, and the Santa Barbara Education Foundation. He wants the community to know that his business is there, and he hopes to eventually use it as a gathering spot for nonprofits and other groups.
“If there are organizations that need a large space to gather their people but don’t want to spend a billion dollars renting out a hotel conference room, I hope to be able to give the space at a good discount, or work with them to partner and let them use the space when I’m not actively using it,” he said. Rawls mentioned ideas like letting artists rent the location to teach their own classes and host open-mic-night events, “but the sky’s the limit. Within reason,” he joked.