It’s hard to imagine anyone embodying the ‘Love Local’ theme of downtown Lee’s Summit more than the guys at Fossil Forge.
There aren’t many weeks that go by that you can’t spot a member of the Fossil Forge team, including owners Dave Eames and Ben Wine, hoisted up on a truck and installing yet another cool, creative sign downtown.
From public art exhibits to neon signage to metal work of all kinds for both businesses and private commissions, Fossil Forge is leading the Love Local campaign.
Eames, past-president of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, and Wine, a co-owner of Neighborhood Cafe and longtime downtown supporter, are constantly seeking ways to enhance downtown and all of Lee’s Summit through their visionary, innovative signage and artwork.
And those pursuits go all the way back to 2002.
Like so many soon-to-be-career-shifting members of the newspaper business, Eames was already plotting his next move while serving as a member of the Kansas City Star’s graphic design team.
When he and wife Kelly moved to downtown Lee’s Summit in 2002, Dave transformed his ‘crazy good’ detached garage into a workshop, and the early visions of Fossil Forge were born.
“I learned how to work in metal, learned how to weld, when the economy got rough in 2008 and layoffs at The Star started,” Dave recalled, adding that his own health issues and the death of his parents led him to make the break from the newspaper before his layoff number was called.
From graphic design and illustration to building Little Free Libraries in his garage, the growth and progression of Fossil Forge began to take shape, culminating in the purchase of the building at 317 SE Main in 2015 and hiring Ben - an expert in signage, metal work and neon in his own right - in 2017.
“I was fantasizing about owning a building because I wanted to be a bigger part of what was happening downtown. Bob Bushyhead and I were in a design meeting in 2014 and it was complete serendipity: we left that meeting, walked down the street, up the alley and looked at this space. It could not have been better,” said Eames.
He joined Bob (Land3 Studio) and Christine Bushyhead (Bushyhead, LLC) in purchasing the spot, which the three companies transformed into offices and a workshop.
“That was really the turning point. We were all of a sudden part of the downtown neighborhood.”
The first sign out of the new shop was hung at Blue Heron Design, and their popularity with local store owners snowballed from there.
Looking around downtown, you can find Fossil Forge’s handiwork at many downtown spots, including: Smoke Brewing Company, the Ice House Auction, Main Slice, Fringe, Stuey McBrew’s, Sabor Latino, The Pink Elephant, the Lee’s Summit Historical Museum, INSPO by KHL Design Studio, Ivy & Sparrow, the Cigar Shop, Country Club Bank, Arcade Alley, Third Street Social and the new Reece Nichols building.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to do a lot of signs down here, and there are a lot more on the way,” Ben said.
Their biggest project that first year, however, was the creation of ‘Emergence,’ the massive City Hall public art piece made in conjunction with the city’s sesquicentennial in 2015.
“That was vital for the shop in the early days,” Dave said. “We basically had occupancy in September and we had to build that sculpture in a month.”
Public art exhibits became a fixture for Fossil Forge, with the collective creativity of the group commissioned to build high profile pieces like ‘Infinite Harvest’ at Summit Orchards, the iconic ‘816’ in downtown Lee’s Summit and ‘Prism’ at Pleasant Lea the Middle School.
On top of that, the shop has produced 44 Little Free Library installments nationwide, with 18 right here in Lee’s Summit.
The Love Local flare of the shop eventually spilled over into retail, as Ben and Dave opened Local Foundery on Market Street in 2019, moving to a more prominent spot at 15 SW 3rd Street in the fall of 2021.
“We got our training wheels on in that first location,” Ben said. “We closed and moved in within four days.”
The whole notion of the Local Foundery is to create a store that serves as a connection between the older antique shops and a newer shop that offers vintage, handmade and other maker items around Kansas City.