Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review April 2007.
By Julie Gordon
For about a year-and-a-half, Beth Wert has watched children’s faces light up with excitement as they paint pottery at her Napa-based studio, The Clayhouse. But now Wert wonders if she’ll be able to keep the city’s only paint-your-own pottery studio open.
Last fall, per an agreement with her landlord, Wert had to leave the First Street location she occupied for nearly a year. She moved to 1757 Tanen St. (behind the Napa Car Wash on Soscol Avenue and in front of 4 Kids Sake, a new and used baby furniture clothing store) but the new location is neither as visible nor as big as the First Street location.
While Wert told her customers she was moving, many mistakenly thought she went out of business. Now, with a drastic drop in the number of people coming in, she’s hard-pressed to keep the doors open.
Without someone to help her write a business plan, and a silent partner who can provide around $10,000, Wert says she’ll most likely be forced to close up shop. She’s hoping to find an angel investor who can step up to the plate and make sure her business stays afloat.
“Think of the feather in their hat if someone in the community has the means and the motivation to help a small, adorable (locally-owned) business,” she says.
Wert, who has signed a two-year-lease, must continue to pay rent until that period is up, and regardless of what happens to The Clayhouse. If The Clayhouse is forced to close, Wert, who enjoys sewing, says she may restart her former custom sewing business.
As if constantly worrying about how she’s going to pay the rent isn’t bad enough, Wert also has been hit with a wealth of medical expenses. Her appendix burst on Christmas and, because the problem wasn’t fixed correctly, she was in and out of hospital four times over the course of three weeks. “I’ve had a tsunami of bad things happen,” says Wert, who estimates she has lost $8,000 due to her business moving and being hospitalized.
Wert used to run a similar studio in Nevada. She was living in Truckee at the time and commuting to North Lake Tahoe when she learned her daughter Katherine, who lives in Napa, was pregnant. She opened The Clayhouse here in November 2005.
One of Wert’s friends, Debbie Ezell, who makes regular trips from her home in Walnut Creek to paint pottery at The Clayhouse, says that if it closed, not only would she be sad personally, but also it would be a loss for the entire Napa community.
Iranian native Ali Rafiee, who teaches classes on how to paint ceramics at The Clayhouse on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m., is among those who don’t want to see the business go under.
“I like to show the techniques to other people,” he says, noting that his classes typically have about five people, but he’ll still teach even if one person shows up.
Some of the many things people can paint at The Clayhouse include coffee mugs, plates, vases, salt and peppershakers and garden pots. For Valentine’s Day, Ezell painted coffee mugs with the words “I love you” on them. During the holidays, she also painted ornaments. “Those are good keepsakes,” she says. “You can put the year on them.” It’s also possible to do clay imprinting. New moms can make an imprint of their baby’s hand, for example.
With its white walls and large windows, The Clayhouse has a “light and cozy feel,” Wert says. There are two main areas to the studio. The front opens to the bisque (fired pottery selection) and two small tables. Another area, sporting three large windows, two large tables and two small tables, is ideal for large parties and groups.
“It’s a super-adorable business,” says Wert, who hopes to start an after-school program after Spring Break. “People need to try it if they haven’t come in before.”
For more information, contact Wert at 224-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.