‘You buy something you made’: String of DYI shops open in Valley, helping people make signs, pottery, paintings and more

  • Examples of projects hang on the wall at Hammer and Stain Western Mass, a do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Snyder, of Palmer, paints a cut-out of a rabbit as she makes a welcome sign at Hammer and Stain Western Mass, a do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Kamins, second from right, who is the owner of Hammer and Stain Western Mass, tends to a class at the do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst, Tuesday, June 25, as they make welcome signs. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Kamins, left, who is the owner of Hammer and Stain Western Mass, makes suggestions to Laura Snyder, of Palmer, as she makes a welcome sign at the do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hammer and Stain Western Mass, 35 Montague Road in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katie Sanville, top, of Monson, paints a cut-out of a snowflake as Laura Snyder, of Palmer, paints a heart at Hammer and Stain Western Mass, a do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. The cut-outs are for a welcome sign they made. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Kamins, left, the owner of Hammer and Stain Western Mass, makes suggestions to Laura Snyder of Palmer as she makes a welcome sign. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katie Sanville, of Monson, paints a cut-out of a snowflake at Hammer and Stain Western Mass, a do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. The cut-out is for a welcome sign she made. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bonnie Kokosa, left, and Kathy Austin, both of Belchertown, paint cut-outs that became part of a welcome sign they made at Hammer and Stain Western Mass, a do-it-yourself workshop in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Karla and Dave Pratt hold examples of projects customers can make at Board and Brush, a do-it-yourself workshop they plan to open in September at 19 College St. in The Village Commons in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2019 10:04:09 PM

AMHERST — Debbie Cole often envisions creative projects in her head, but finds that she struggles to shape these concepts into reality on her own. Laurie Kamins, meanwhile, has worked with crafts throughout her life and comes from an artistic family.

Despite Cole’s insistence that she is “not a creative person at all,” the Belchertown resident has created a number of decorative wooden signs and paintings with the right guidance. Much of this instruction has come from Kamins, a fellow Belchertown inhabitant and owner of Hammer & Stain Western Mass workshop studio.

Hammer & Stain Western Mass — an independently owned Amherst location of a national chain — opened at 35 Montague Road in March, and is part of a wave of businesses offering a range of “do it yourself” workshops where customers create paintings, signage, pottery or other crafts with an instructor on hand for guidance. Oftentimes, the workshops are BYOB or sell drinks on location.

“I have all these great ideas in my head of projects I would like to do,” said Cole, who has attended about a dozen studio sessions, “but for me to know how to start them and how to do them myself, that’s not me. So to go somewhere where someone shows you step-by-step from start to finish, it’s great.”

Workshops at Hammer & Stain start at around $25 and vary based on the project. 

Hammer & Stain isn’t the only DIY business to set up shop in the Valley; in South Hadley, wife and husband team Karla and David Pratt are in the process of opening a Board & Brush Creative Studio, which also specializes in decorative signs. The studio is expected to open at 19 College St. in The Village Commons in September.

And in Easthampton, Jena McNerny, an art teacher at the MacDuffie School, is set to open a DIY pottery and painting business, Level Studio Arts, at the Paragon Arts & Industry Building within the week.

Creativity with guidance

For some patrons, such as Cole, DIY businesses offer a connection between experienced artists and those not as comfortable working with crafts.

“I’ve always had a love for crafts,” Kamins recalled, “and I wanted to turn my passion into having other people in to create projects.”

Through her work with Hammer & Stain, Kamins hopes to show patrons such as Cole that they don’t need to be self-declared artistic types to enjoy crafts.

This philosophy has held true for Cole, who said that the workshops “make me look like I am the best creative person ever.”

McNerny, owner of Level Studio Arts, has noticed similar trends among her own patrons.

Although she will be working out of a new location, Mc-Nerny is not new to the local DIY industry — she was previously the manager at Judie’s Art Bar in Amherst, which was owned by Judie’s Restaurant. The studio is now in transition, McNerny said, and will soon open as Level Studio Arts at 150 Pleasant St. in Easthampton, offering pottery lessons within the studio and sending instructors to hold paint nights at outside locations such as colleges.

In her time as an instructor, McNerny said that she has often noticed many patrons do not consider themselves artistic. But at her workshops, McNerny said that customers often end up surprising themselves with their own abilities.

“A lot of people come in with little to no creative experience,” McNerny said, “and they realize, ‘Oh wait, I am creative. I can do this.’”

“They’re mainly adults who never did this,” McNerny added of her clientele, “and to watch them almost fall in love with materials and new ideas, it brings out a new side, almost a childlike side to adults. So I like people being able to experience their creativity.”

David Pratt, a co-owner of the Board & Brush set to open in South Hadley, also noted the appeal of having an instructor present.

“You don’t have to be super handy,” he said. “Yes, you’re dealing with wood and painting and staining, but it’s sort of instructor-led, and they tell you each step, so you basically just follow along, and if you’re having any trouble at all the assistant can jump right in.”

Most signs at Board & Brush are expected to cost $65 to make.

Interactive retail

Karla Pratt, also a co-owner of Board & Brush, noted that for others, DIY businesses present a break from typical retail experiences.

Workshops are “a great environment, whether it’s for team building, or a bachelorette party, or for friends who haven’t seen each other, or even if you want to do something with your spouse that’s different than going out to eat or going to the movies,” Karla said.

“And you get a good product after, where you’re able to hang it up and be proud you made it,” she added.

“It’s definitely the experience,” David agreed. “It’s not so much what you come out with at the other end. It’s the experience of going out with friends and creating something.”

The ability to customize the product oneself serves as a major appeal for patrons, Cole noted.

“You can go into a store and buy a sign, but it always seems like it’s not the right color, or it doesn’t have the right saying,” Cole said. But at workshops, “you can customize and make it whatever you wanted it to be,” she said.

Jeffrey Labrecque, chief operating officer of The Village Commons, said that the appeal of DIY businesses is part of a larger shift in the business landscape.

“The retail world is changing a lot,” he said. “Most of the retail world is becoming more interactive.”

These interactive retail businesses not only include creative businesses, Labrecque said, but can comprise other activities as well, he said, citing local examples such as Round1 bowling alley and the Flight Fit N Fun trampoline park at the Holyoke Mall.

Labrecque said he was not initially interested in bringing a business such as Board & Brush to The Village Commons, but he saw a high interest among locals as soon as word got out that a studio location would be opening in the Village Commons. He noted that “my phone started ringing off the wall” with people interested in the business.

“Basically, the community itself persuaded me to change my mind,” Labrecque said.

“Instead of going to a retail store and buying something retail-made,” he said, “you buy something you made.”




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