Business Notepad

Made in these mountains

“Our niche is that all of our things are from Western North Carolina,” explains Melinda Knies, manager of Mountain Made. “Other stores might carry items from North Carolina, Appalachia, the mountains — but that could include parts of Virginia or Tennessee. Ours is just strickly Western North Carolina.” The 946-square-foot gallery/retail store opened last October in the newly renovated Grove Arcade — the “first store to open in the inside,” notes Knies.

Another unique aspect of Mountain Made is that while it “works much like any other for-profit retail store,” explains Knies, all of the proceeds go to the Mountain Microenterprise Fund, which owns the store. Since 1989, the nonprofit has provided business training, loans and assistance to nearly 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs.

MMF, explains Knies, has been “working on a project … so that all of their funds every year do not have to come strictly from grants — so that they have a certain percentage of their money coming from their own source. … The store is a part of that project.”

Although Mountain Made does carry the work of some well-known artists, the emphasis is on showcasing local artists whose work hasn’t been exhibited in galleries before. “It gives those people an opportunity to have their work seen,” Knies explains.

Among the diverse items produced by the 80+ artists represented are: elegant quilted wall hangings (Caroline Helton, Arden); a line of chuckle-inducing stuffed chickens (the McBain sisters, Morganton); bark-edged wooden bowls (Rodney Tanner, Murphy); illuminated stained-glass pedestals (Tom Mikita, Black Mountain); ancient-looking verdigris-finished clay mirrors (Suzanne Kraman, Marshall); surprisingly beautiful jewelry created from beads made out of recycled paper — using cocktail napkins, newspaper, even a map of Chesapeake Bay (Jan Knees, Leicester); hand-painted silk scarves (Donna Kassab, Hendersonville); hand-forged iron and copper plates and candle holders (Wesley Angel, Asheville); brightly painted lamps and side tables (Isabel Taylor, Weaverville); carved wooden musicians playing traditional instruments (Redd Keech, Alexander); and Native American photography (Tracy Schmidt, Tryon).

An artist wall highlights a different artist each month; on the weekends, there are artist demonstrations. “Customers get to meet [the artists], talk to them, see how they work,” Knies explains.

Usually, these demonstrations are held in the Arcade hallway to give the artists more room, but there was one exception.

When Matt LeRoux, a flame-worked-glass artist from Arden, did a demonstration recently, “The Fire Department wouldn’t let him set out in the hall,” says Knies with a laugh, adding, “They won’t let you have a can of Sterno out there. … Fortunately, they did give him a permit to have [the demonstration] in the store.”

Besides art and craft items, Mountain Made also carries CDs by WNC musicians and books from the WNC Writers Guild. “I’m real excited about that,” says Knies. “Their books are wonderful.”

Any artist or craftsperson interested in having their work carried by Mountain Made can call the store to set up an appointment, says Knies. “We have a selection committee that helps jury the items that go into the store.”

Although Mountain Made occasionally sells items on consignment, for the most part, she explains, “The way we work with an artist is wholesale — so the artists get their money up front.”

For more information, call Mountain Made at 350-0307 or visit their Web site (www.mtnmade.com).

— Lisa Watters

Honoring women in business

“All these women are amazing; it wasn’t an easy decision to make,” says YWCA Marketing Director Ami Worthen about choosing an Honoree of the Year from among the 21 women feted at the YW’s 12th annual Tribute to Women In Industry awards banquet, held March 20 at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel.

Each year, TWIN honors the professional achievements of women — and the companies they run or work for — whose personnel practices support the advancement of women. But this was the first year the YW chose one of those honorees to receive special recognition.

After a selection committee reviewed all the applications, says Worthen, Maralee Gollberg of The Health Adventure was named Honoree of the Year.

In 1972, Gollberg began volunteering with an innovative new health-education project of the Buncombe County Medical Auxiliary. That project evolved into The Health Adventure.

Gollberg, says Worthen, was one of eight “founding mothers” who were told by a local surgeon (who later became a strong supporter of the project) that there was no way they could raise the $375,000 needed for a building, because they were all women.

Proving their naysayer wrong, the women succeeded in raising the money, and Gollberg volunteered as executive director from 1972-1979.

Now vice president of planning, programs and exhibits, Gollberg oversees a staff of 17 and, says Worthen, “assures an accessible, clean, safe environment for the organization’s 120,000 visitors” each year.

During The Health Adventure’s 35-year history, Gollberg has coordinated all five moves to new facilities. And she’s now charged with coordinating plans for a proposed move to a new facility that would be built on Broadway north of downtown.

A registered nurse, Gollberg also helped develop the N.C. Center for Creative Retirement and the UNCA department of health promotion and served as director of Elderhostel.

The other TWIN 2003 Honorees are: Sheryl Aikman (CFWNC), Lisa Bollinger (Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory), Donna B. Clark (Buncombe County government), Laura L. Copeland (Chamber of Commerce), Gigi Derballa (A-B Tech), Nancy Ellington (Tryon Distributing Company), Pearl B. Ellison (MAHEC), Merrell Gregory (Mission St. Joseph’s), Carol A. Gutierrez (AFCCC), Catherine F. Hitesman (Smith Barney), Donna Lieder (UBS Paine Webber), Kim MacQueen (Gold Hill Associates), Carolyn Richardson (Community CarePartners), Julie Sargent (United Way), Carol Schramm (UNCA), Natalie A. Shaft (Square D Company), Letta Jean Taylor (town of Montreat), Margaret K. Tessier (National Climatic Data Center), Rosario Villarreal (Mountain Microenterprise Fund), and Elly Wells (Elly Wells Marketing).

— Lisa Watters

Asheville boasts high concentration of independent artists

Asheville has long been known as a haven for artists; now, even the U.S. Census Bureau says so.

According to the latest census data, in the year 2000 the Asheville metro area was home to 636 self-employed, independent artists, writers and performers. That works out to 2.8 independent artists per 1,000 residents, placing Asheville first among the state’s 11 metro areas. The Raleigh metro area had the next highest concentration (2.0 per 1,000). Statewide, North Carolina boasts 1.2 artists per 1,000 residents; the national ratio was 1.8 per 1,000.

The Census Bureau calculated the number of artists working independently (without employees) based on federal income-tax data, explains Tom Tveidt of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Research Center.

This “one-of-a-kind data base,” says Tveidt, “offers a unique view into the often-overlooked self-employed, independent artist who works alone.”

Although this kind of enterprise is “not as visible as other business sectors,” he notes, self-employed, independent artists nationwide collected gross receipts, sales and commissions totaling $9.2 billion in 2000. That same year, Asheville-area artists collected nearly $9.6 million.

— Lisa Watters

Free computer classes for laid-off workers

“Students taking the class who are either very much beginners with computers or who just know a little … seem to benefit from the class quite a bit,” notes Kay Manly, coordinator of A-B Tech’s Human Resources Development Program. She’s speaking about the school’s Transitional Training Program. “More than one student has said that it really boosted their confidence.”

The Transitional Training Program — offered free to people who’ve been laid off — teaches basic computer skills and keyboarding with an introduction to Windows, Word, the Internet and e-mail. Participants will also learn how to write resumes and cover letters. The next training starts Tuesday, April 1 and meets Tuesdays and Thursdays through May 1, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Classes meet in the Pines Building, Room 212, on A-B Tech’s main campus. Layoff verification is required to qualify.

Students, says Manly, have also praised the step-by-step instruction provided in the 30-hour training; the comfortable atmosphere; being allowed to work at their own pace; and learning about Web sites for job searches.

For more information or to register, call A-B Tech at 254-1921, ext. 333.

— Lisa Watters

Karma and caffeine

To survive in Asheville’s ever-expanding cafe scene, you need a good hook. After all, any Jane can make a decent cup of joe. But it helps to create a cozy atmosphere with furniture and ambiance that say, “Hey, stay a little while — the world can wait.” The Relaxed Reader (721 Haywood Road in West Asheville) does just that: Couches and easy chairs snuggle up against a picture window tailor made for soaking up sun or simply contemplating the lively passing parade.

But that’s not the hook. No, what sets the Relaxed Reader apart is that it’s a kind of convenience store for the mind. In one stop, you can knock back an energizing latte or smoothie, buy a used book, rent a movie, or take in a little live poetry. A mostly vegetarian menu offers a hodgepodge of victuals that Relaxed Reader owner Jonah Lipsky describes as “healthy, creative, soulful food.”

At 26, Lipsky is part of the West Asheville renaissance. The resurgence of the Haywood Road corridor has driven home the realization that West Asheville is no longer simply the funky, affordable point on Asheville’s compass — it’s the destination itself. As more and more small businesses open, Haywood Road is once again becoming a Main Street, and West Asheville neighbors are finding more and more reasons not to go downtown.

Lipsky’s business philosophy is simple: “I want to provide a place where people can gather and feel at home; where they can feel open to one another.” His book selection is heavily weighted toward spirituality, healing and progressive politics. His movies are chosen “according to what my friends liked and thought people would want to rent,” Lipsky reveals with a grin as we scan a wall of videos ranging from The Naked Lunch to Altered States.

“A lot of my customers,” he notes, “live here in West Asheville and walk here; we’ve got food, drinks, live music — and you can also pick up a book or video for later. I’m just trying to do something unique.”

And with a coffee/smoothie/hummus/book/video/entertainment cafe, Lipsky looks to have succeeded.

The Relaxed Reader is open seven days a week, with spoken-word poetry on Tuesday evenings, an open-mic night on Wednesdays, and live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 225-6677 for more information.

— Brian Sarzynski

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