New horizons: Downtown biz veterans change course

April 2013 Posted in Business, People
Renee Bianchi (right) helps customers at Stone Buddha.

Renee Bianchi helps a customer at Stone Buddha.

By Brenna Wiegand

Celia Stapleton and Renee Bianchi have been movers and shakers since they entered Silverton’s downtown business mix in 2002.

But the way things have shaken out the last few years, they’re ready for a change. In March they closed the Purl District and have put their other business, Stone Buddha, up for sale.

Ten years ago it was a different story.

Opening Stone Buddha nearly 11 years ago was one of Stapleton’s first steps back into the land of the living after losing her partner to ovarian cancer.

“I quit nursing … I just kind of gave up,” said Stapleton, a nurse for 30 years. “After a year or so Renee and I got together.”

Renee was an X-ray tech and fellow Lunaria Gallery artist.

Driving in the country one day they found a place near Molalla selling English antiques. The woman told them about importing goods from various countries via ocean container. Stapleton’s curiosity piqued; her multi-media art frequently revealed her love of Asian styles and methods such as Gyotaku; Japanese fish printing.

The shop lady had just been approached about a container from China. “Open your own store,” she said.

“Although I’d done that sort of a thing as a kid it never occurred to me I could do it as an adult,” Stapleton said. “I checked it out and within a week I had rented a place and gotten a loan from my credit union.”

Things got off to a good start from the first load of Chinese furniture and they continued on the theme bringing such imports as tea and tea ware from Korea and Indonesian carvings. It served as a gallery and teaching venue.

Within the year they’d opened another shop in downtown Silverton. Bock & Doodle indulged Bianchi’s chicken obsession.

Renee took charge of these while Celia sought more hands-on ways to express and teach her love of textiles and paper while filling gaps in Silverton’s offerings.

In 2004 she opened Babycakes, a paper store, and in 2006 she founded Purl District, a knit shop. On its heels came Snippets, an upscale fabric store. However, save Stone Buddha and Purl District, the others ran their course in a year or two.

Celia Stapleton, second from left, and her knitting pals plan to get together for Pints ‘n’ Purls at Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton April 18, 6 - 8 p.m. for “fun, food and fiber.”

Celia Stapleton, second from left, and her knitting pals plan to get together for Pints ‘n’ Purls at Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton April 18, 6 – 8 p.m. for “fun, food and fiber.”

In the process, the women became anchors in the business community; the Chamber of Commerce began sending prospective business owners their way to learn the ins and outs of doing so.

As the soft-spoken Bianchi greeted guests to Stone Buddha, Celia was a couple blocks away yucking it up in the knitting circle. The shop was catching on and hopes were high until it all started to unravel around 2008 as the recession took its toll. For the last three years any “employees” have been volunteers.

“It has gotten so what walks in the door is all the money we have,” said Stapleton, knitting away with her pals days before the March 29 closure. “Not like CEOs who may not get their $6 million bonus; I mean there’s not enough to pay bills and buy yarn.”

Meanwhile, they are confident the right buyer will appear for the viable Stone Buddha – one who appreciates its reputation and contacts of 10 years, the $169,000 asking price – and great landlords to boot, Bianchi said of Raymond and Ida Kwan, owners of Chan’s Restaurant next door.

As the couple, both in their mid-60s, begin to pullback, it’s not without reflecting on all that has taken place; the lives they’ve touched.

Like Pat Annen, an elderly special needs woman who learned to take the bus, knitting bag in tow.

Sara Nathan fell in after graduating college.

“I could analyze literature or talk to you forever about Middle Eastern politics, but I didn’t have the retail skills to even get a job at Starbuck’s,” said Nathan, a knitter who’d taught kids the art.

As a result of the expertise and encouragement of the needle-wielding bunch, Nathan honed her skills and even began creating patterns. Plus she gained that retail experience.

A knit shop was one of the things on Jean Baldwin and her husband’s list when looking to relocate from California five years ago. Coming back through Silverton after a cross country question, they were further impressed the penny meters and beautiful weather – at the time of their visit.

When Nancy Korda purchased Edward Adams Bed & Breakfast and moved to Silverton two years ago, she threw in the sweater that had been such a frustration she’d put it aside.

“I came here and everybody helped me with it; it became a group project,” she said. “…it’s like therapy. They even made a house call once!”

Stapleton and Bianchi’s business experience and perennial desire to explore and create frees them up for new ventures. Renee’s planning a wholesale business out of her home selling unique magnets and cards.

Stapleton’s not veering from with textile arts first learned at her mother’s knee when she was 5.

“I’m thinking about having a small indie dye business; natural dyes I go and collect myself. I don’t know what it will look like; but I want to start here, gathering plants and wood and whatever I can get locally…

“It involves some exercise, being outside and I just like the sound of it.”

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