Business Notepad

Hats off!

Two weeks after opening Asheville North Carolina Home Crafts (their stall in the Grove Arcade), owners Judy Bryson Quinn and Marie Hendrix knew they were in trouble.

“All our hats were gone!” Hendrix explains.

Although they weren’t a hat shop, that was the item that was proving most popular with their customers.

Recalling last October’s emergency, Quinn says: “Fortunately, Marie is well acquainted with other spinners in the area. She called in the troops!”

“I think it was the glazed look on our faces” that convinced the new recruits that she and Quinn needed help — and fast, notes Hendrix with a laugh. “‘Please, do you have a hat we could sell?'” she remembers pleading.

The stall now represents 12 local hat-makers, many of whom use the wool of animals they raise themselves — including sheep, goats, rabbits and llamas.

The hats come in a cornucopia of colors, textures and designs — bowler-shaped and floppy-rimmed, toboggans and berets. There are knitted, crocheted and hand-felted hats (several of the latter have a marbleized look). Some have rayon novelty yarn running through them: “eyelashes” (worked into the rim), “shiny fizz” (looks like Easter-egg “grass”), and metallic threads.

“We have no plain hats; they’re all special,” says Quinn.

“They’re all one-of-a-kind,” agrees Hendrix. “You won’t find two alike.”

For the spring/summer season, they’re also carrying some lighter-weight hats made of cotton, chenille, nylon twine or beautifully dyed straw.

“Nothing imported, nothing manufactured,” Quinn says proudly. “Everything is local and handmade.”

Besides the hats, customers will also find other natural-fiber products, such as headbands, scarves, socks and mittens — some kid-sized — as well as bags of “roving” (washed and carded wool) and skeins of yarn (llama, angora, mohair, alpaca and what Hendrix calls “basic sheep”), all locally produced.

The stall also carries baskets (representing four basket-makers), quilts (full-sized ones as well as quilted wall hangings, place mats and even tiny lapel-pin quilts), chicken-inspired pin cushions, coasters made from recycled silk clothing, “country loofahs” (bars of soap covered with llama wool and mohair), authentic Cherokee dolls and corn-bead jewelry, Raggedy Annes and “old-fashioned story dolls.”

These last items, Quinn explains, “are made by Elouise Renfro … an elderly woman from Burnsville who’s using the same pattern she started with 50 years ago.”

Amazingly, each doll is actually the entire cast of characters from a particular fairy tale. One doll, for example, portrays Little Red Riding Hood; turn her over and let her skirt fall down and there’s Grandma; turn Grandma around, take her bonnet off, and there’s the wolf. Another doll portrays Goldilocks and the three bears; yet another Snow White, the seven dwarfs and the old hag (holding out a poison apple, no less).

Then there’s the collection of “Mountain Boogers” — goofy marionettes that look like a cross between a cat and an ostrich.

“We both grew up with the tradition of making your own things,” notes Quinn. “You make do with what you have [and] you make what you need. We have lots of friends and family that make beautiful things; we believed we could market these things.”

Quinn’s mother and sister made many of the traditional-style quilts they carry; the store also sells honey produced by Hendrix’s father. Hendrix notes that her kids will often sit around in the evenings and make things for the store (both can spin and weave.)

The artists they represent, says Quinn, are often like her mother who, “at 80, continues to quilt and sew — but wouldn’t think of selling what she makes.”

Many “might make only five things, 10 things a year,” she notes. “It’s amazing to hear them say, “I actually got a check!”

Quinn (a basket-maker and knitter) and Hendrix (a spinner, weaver and knitter) met through church and their children’s involvement with 4-H Club.

Hendrix, in fact, jokingly calls their business “4-H run amok!”

For Hendrix, it began when she and her husband got “animals the kids could show at 4-H,” she explains. “A goat, then a rabbit, then another goat.” Next thing you know, however, “They started breeding with each other! … My children aged out of showing the animals. The animals got left with me [and] we ended up with all these bags of fiber.”

Her husband’s family’s farm (in Alexander) used to produce tobacco as well as support traditional livestock; over time, the tobacco production has given way to raising fiber-producing animals instead.

The Hendrixes now have three llamas, a small herd of angora mohair goats, eight angora rabbits and “63-ish sheep — it depends on what time of the day it is and who’s in labor,” says Hendrix with a laugh.

Holding up a skein of yarn, she notes, “This is from Joy [a sheep] and Frick and Frack [both goats].”

Hendrix then shows me a box under the counter. In it are three baby ducks that her 15-year old daughter, Kimberly Hendrix (who’s in the store that day), is taking home to the family pond.

Sometimes, on Saturdays, Hendrix will bring in an animal or two to display at the stall. When I return the next day (a Saturday) to take some more photos, Kimberly is leading a baby lamb down the Grove Arcade hallway while her mom pulls wool from Buddy, a large but seemingly unperturbed angora rabbit that’s sitting on her lap. Hendrix then proceeds to feed the wool into a spinning wheel she works with her feet.

Both women say they enjoy selling things they’ve made and talking to people.

“If we had a public job, this is what we’d do for relaxation. It’s what we like to do,” notes Quinn. “And we can do it at work. We come and play!”

“Customers will often see us spinning or making hats,” adds Hendrix. “I tell them, ‘These are Buncombe County sheep.'”

“Prize-winning, blue-ribbon sheep,” her daughter Kimberly reminds her.

For more information, call Asheville North Carolina Home Crafts at 350-7556.

— Lisa Watters

State grants fund employee training

Establishing a small business can be tough, and there’s rarely any money available for training staff. A new N.C . Department of Commerce grant program offers underfunded small businesses in North Carolina up to $50,000 to help enhance their employees’ skills and productivity. To be eligible for an Incumbent Worker Program Grant, a business must have been in continuous operation for the preceding 12 months, and the employees to be trained must work in-state.

The Mountain Area Workforce Development Board is accepting applications from businesses in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties through May 31. After local review, applications will be sent on to the N.C. Division of Employment and Training for final deliberation. The review process should be completed by June 15 for applications received by May 15, and by June 30 for those received later.

“The purpose of these grants is to help North Carolina’s small-business employees become more skilled and more productive, and to help the businesses themselves become more profitable and more resilient,” explains Mountain Area Workforce Development Board Chairman Doug Keene. “We have had far too many business closures in the four-county area over the past few years. When business budgets get tight, employee training is not affordable. Yet skilled workers are the lifeblood of business success and a key factor in preventing business failures and job losses.”

Phil Monk, who will administer the program for the Workforce Board, says: “These grants permit a variety of training programs. Businesses can provide the training themselves, bring in specialized experts, contract with private training providers, or pay tuition for employees to attend courses at the community colleges or other educational institutions. The type of training and the manner in which it is provided is determined by the needs of the individual businesses that apply.” Businesses can provide training in specialized or technical skills, or they can offer employees classes in workplace literacy, basic skills or English as a second language.

Monk also notes that while larger operations can also apply, smaller businesses (those with less than 100 employees) will automatically receive a five-point bonus on their application score.

For more information or an application, call Monk at 250-4760 or visit the N.C. Department of Commerce Web site (www.nccommerce.com/workforce).

— Lisa Watters

Free stress relief for families of deployed

Two local businesses — Swannanoa Valley Family Medicine and the Relax & Rejuvenate Massage Center — are teaming up to provide stress relief for WNC residents whose loved ones have been deployed.

Clinical hypnotherapist Priscilla Broussard of Swannanoa Valley Family Medicine will lead a free, two-hour stress-management workshop on Saturday, May 17, 1-3 p.m. at Relax & Rejuvenate (in Westgate Mall).

Participants will learn simple techniques for calming body and mind. They’ll also experience two guided self-hypnosis sessions geared toward relieving stress. In addition, nationally certified massage therapists will be on hand to provide free 10-minute chair massages for workshop participants. Seating is limited, and preregistration is required.

Broussard says she realized the need for such a workshop when a friend recently began suffering panic attacks after her husband was deployed.

“So many American women and men are sacrificing so much right now that offering this class is the least I can do,” she notes.

For more information or to register, call 250-9077 or 664-0700, or visit Broussard’s Web site (www.HypnosisUSA.com).

— Lisa Watters

American DataMed now hiring

American DataMed — a Newport Beach, Calif.-based company providing electronic record retrieval for the insurance and litigation industries — has chosen Asheville as the site for its new National Customer Service Center.

American DataMed specializes in electronically obtaining, cataloging and storing any type of records, such as medical, employment or educational.

The south Asheville facility (100 Technology Drive in Biltmore Park) will offer such services as online document retrieval and storage, electronic image storage, legal document preparation, and on-site scanning of documents around-the-clock. Slated to open this week, the center expects to employ more than 100 customer-service representatives within 24 months. The jobs will start at about $7.50 per hour with full benefits.

“We chose Asheville over other cities in the Southeast because of the availability and quality of the work force,” said President/CEO Robb Howard. “We were also impressed with the proactive approach that was taken to recruit us here.”

The recruitment, reports Dave Porter, vice president of economic development for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, was a team effort that included the city of Asheville, Buncombe County, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, and A-B Tech.

It started with an e-mail that American DataMed sent out in December to a number of cities they were interested in.

“We put together a detailed proposal quickly, turned around and got that sent overnight to them — and then I followed up,” Porter explains. “I went out there and met with them in Newport Beach in January to answer any questions.”

That, says Porter, made all the difference. “Of all the communities [the company contacted] we were the only one to do that — go out and actually visit them — and that made an impression on them. Because of that, they came in the following week and took a look at Asheville and quickly narrowed their choices between us and Meridian, Miss. It happened very quickly.”

The city also played an important role, notes Porter, by “expediting permitting to get the space [in Biltmore Park] outfitted. They did a great job.”

Another key factor was A-B Tech’s willingness to provide free training to American DataMed employees. “That was a big, big thing,” stresses Porter.

People interested in employment opportunities with the company can send a resume to: Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 1010, Asheville, NC 28802, Attention: Economic Development. For more information about American DataMed, visit their Web site (www.americandatamed.com).

— Lisa Watters

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