Changes afoot at Artisans at Work

Artisans at Work owner Tara Shelton is selling the Danforth business so she can move to Australia to live with her birth family. Shop dog Mauly not included in sale. PHOTO: Anna Killen

Take it from a journalist: sometimes, people just need a deadline.

That’s certainly been the experience of local custom jewelry maker Tara Shelton. She’s been busy with last-minute orders since announcing she will be moving to Australia in a few months.

In a recent newsletter, Shelton was firm with her clients that she’s packing up and moving on in the new year, urging them to get their jewelry orders in now or risk her craftsmanship going down under.

Since, all sorts of people have “come out of the woodwork,” said Shelton, something Beach Metro witnessed during a recent late afternoon rush at Artisans at Work, the local gift and art gallery she owns on Danforth at Woodbine.

Shelton is hoping the deadline-driven spirit translates to her larger goal: finding someone to take over her business.

“It would be perfect for a group of artists or entrepreneurs,” she said of the turnkey operation she’s been running for five years. “With the first five years under its belt, this business is making a great name and income for itself, and I am not happy to imagine it may come to an end.”

The space has six studios, a 650 square-foot gallery that can be used as an event or workshop space, a photography print studio and a shopfront onto Danforth Avenue that sells work from local artists on consignment. Shelton says she’s always wanted to put a pottery studio in the back.

The store sells the work of many local artists in one place, something that was important to Shelton’s sense of community.

“People love knowing that someone around here made these things,” she said.

Local artist Judith Fisher sells crocheted and colourful hats through Artisans At Work and helps with the inventory books and on the floor when needed.

“It’s a wonderful place to work as well as shop, particularly for gifts, because of the range of merchandise,” said Fisher. “There are always new items arriving from regular consignees as well as new artists’ work to see.”

Fisher said the artists and professionals renting the studio spaces, as well as the workshops and classes, makes for a “convivial” environment.

For over a year, Shelton has been mentioning to her community that the business will likely be going up for sale, but as of last week, she said she hadn’t received any serious offers.

Now, she said interested parties have until the end of October to make a deal on the business – that’s when she will have to give notice to her landlord if she doesn’t find someone to take over. Shelton said she is asking for $50,000 but is open to “creative offers.”

The East Danforth resident said she will be sorry to say goodbye to the business and the area, but she is leaving for good reason. The 47-year-old is adopted, and after tracking down her Australian birth family nearly 20 years ago, she recently got word her application for Australian citizenship was accepted after she discovered a loophole due to the circumstances of her birth. She’ll be moving to her birth mother’s cabin on the coast to reconnect with her cousins and extended family and will continue to make jewelry from abroad.

But she will miss the East End maker community, particularly the friendships she’s made with her customers and artists.

“The connection is art,” she said. “We connect local people to artists, and connect money and a marketplace to artists… so that they have a home space. I think a lot of people love that here, there is a home for their work.

“This has made me feel whole,” she continued.

And the community will miss her.

Stained glass artist Maggie Groves has been with Artisans at Work since close to the beginning and said she’s “delighted at how well it’s turned out.” She said the flexibility of the space has allowed her to test out products at the store, and that as the store has grown “people have gotten to know my work. They come back. Christmas is fabulous.”

The people help make the space special, too.

“I really love going there,” she said. “Tara is lovely. So are all of the other people that work there. It’s really fun going… I hope the store keeps going.”

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