Biz buzz, Nov. 18, 2012

Chances are, if your son graduated from high school in the Grand Valley or your daughter played varsity softball within the past 20 years, the framed picture displayed on your wall or desk was shot by MJ Thomas Photography.

Now, the Grand Junction business offers a larger variety of photography services in its new walk-in studio at 721 N. 12th St.

Since John and Anne Mueller opened the studio in 1993, their and their employees’ cameras have zoomed in solely on school and sports league shots. MJ now shoots pictures in nearly 300 schools in three states and employs 50 photographers, lab technicians, graphic designers and other staffers.

But the Muellers wanted to keep their photo lab busy all year, rather than just the few months when school pictures are taken. And when Mauch Photography owner Robin Mauch decided to retire last year, the couple saw an opportunity to fill a niche.

“We saw some opportunities for some money being left on the table that Mauch’s void has left,” John Mueller said.

MJ now pitches itself as a full-service, walk-in studio for senior, family and baby portraits, while still retaining its work with schools and athletic teams.

“We’ll start pushing marketing in the spring,” Mueller said. “We’re a full-blown studio with props, lighting, changing rooms.”

That was accomplished through a $200,000, nine-month remodel of 1,800 square feet in the front of the business — space the photography company previously leased out. MJ now has 6,200 square feet, and Mueller said he plans to expand again in a couple of years.

■ Out of space in the location it occupied for the past four years, The Artist’s Haven hopes to draw in a larger customer base to take advantage of its roomier home.

The art supplies retailer on 
Nov. 5 relocated from 527 Bogart Lane to 240 North Ave., the former home of Harbert Lumber. Owner Carol Costopoulos signed a lease but intends to buy the building that has sat empty since Harbert Lumber sold to ProBuild and closed its North Avenue location in the spring of 2011.

“We’re still in the ‘If you can find it in the box, we’ll sell it to you’ stage,” Costopoulos said.

The new location is large enough that Costopoulos’ husband, Marcus, will move his business in there, too. Marcus Costopoulos owns High Plains Services, an environmental reclamation company that works with the energy industry.

Carol Costopoulos said her showroom floor has increased in size, and the business has enough room to rent studio space to artists, something it couldn’t do before on Bogart Lane.

The additional space also allows Costopoulos to bring in merchandise she says is difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in the Grand Valley, including leather supplies, stained glass and wood-carving tools. She said she’s also considering bringing in kilns for artists to fire their clay.

■ You wouldn’t know by looking at him now, but Mike Stephens was bullied as a child. It’s one of the primary reasons he started Grand Valley Kenpo Karate in his home in July 2011, teaching young people how to walk away from fights while at the same time learning self-defense, self-respect and self-confidence.

Enough children and adults alike have caught onto Stephens’s message that his karate school outgrew his home, then space he was renting in Dance Works, 2893 North Ave., Suite A.

Last month, Stephens, who co-owns Grand Valley Kenpo along with Joseph Ellerin, moved into a 1,400-square-foot studio at 1150 N. 25th St in the Huntsman Plaza. The move has enabled the business to expand its classes from three days a week to five.

“It is just in my blood,” Stephens, a third-generation kenpoist and a first-degree black belt, said of karate.

Classes are open to anyone over the age of 5 and start at about $50. Anyone who signs up in November will receive a free uniform and patches.

■ Diners who need to refuel from an afternoon of holiday shopping at Mesa Mall can satisfy their hunger and help out a nonprofit organization at the same time.

Now through the end of the year, Taco John’s in the mall food court will donate 10 percent of sales of the fast-food joint’s Nachos Navidad to Kids Aid. Nachos Navidad is a nacho platter of red- and green-colored tortilla chips. Taco John’s also will sell donation wreaths and display a donation box, all proceeds of which will go to Kids Aid.

Kids Aid is a Grand Junction-based group that provides backpacks full of food to School District 51 students who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

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