FEATURED BUSINESS: Heaven in a hand basket
To paraphrase the gospel, downtown artist, crafter, teacher and retailer Julie Kleinrath couldn’t hide her light under a bushel basket if she tried.
Owner of Woven Designs, 537 Main St., Kleinrath designs and weaves works of art with many practical uses.
The warp and weft of her most exquisite artscapes suggest living forms forged from natural reed shipped all the way from Thailand.
Sometimes the reed is dyed with color. Often it is not.
Some designs are built on a wooden base. Others sport leather handles.
Each has a purpose. All are beautiful.
Kleinrath objects to the florid description.
“It’s a basket, for crying out loud,” she said. “There’s no muse about it. It just makes me happy to make it.”
She could be the happiest retailer on the block, judging by her infectious grin and mirthful chuckle. Spending time with Kleinrath is like going to heaven in a hand basket.
Even with 23 years experience designing, weaving and teaching basketry, she hesitates to call her work fine art.
Nevertheless, all her entries in the Mesa County Fair win blue ribbons, she said.
For the first time in her artistic career, she will gauge the interest of fine art galleries and high-end craft festivals starting next year.
The practical often overtakes the artistic in Kleinrath’s world, except when it comes to running her business like a hard-nosed merchant.
She pays somebody else to rein her in when she gives away too much to charity or drastically cuts the price of her baskets to make a sale.
Created according to her own strict specifications, some of her baskets go straight to the dumpster when she doesn’t feel they measure up to standards.
“If I’m not proud of it, it gets thrown out. It’s awful. It’s one of my babies. I don’t do this willy-nilly,” Kleinrath said.
“When you make your own inventory, it’s very time-consuming,” she said. “I have to make sure my store is fluffy. As soon as somebody comes in and buys five baskets, then it’s time to get busy.”
Kleinrath does her best to buy products made in America. Made in Colorado is better. Made in Grand Junction is best.
“I feel very strongly about that,” she said. “I don’t like to purchase anything that’s brought in from overseas, unless I absolutely have to, because we have people out there unemployed because their jobs have been sent overseas.”
“We need to keep it as local as we possibly can,” Kleinrath said. “Made in Colorado is very important to me, but it’s been a challenge to get products in here that are appropriate for our store.”
One item she can’t buy in the U.S. is the type of reed cultivated specifically for basket-making. That material is commercially grown in Thailand or the Philippines and cut and packaged in China.
Currently, China is dragging its feet to ship the reed U.S. basket-makers need.
“It comes from the cane tree, which is a very fast growing tree,” she said. “The trees are cut down and limbed and the trunk is sent to China.”
China processes the cane and makes it into the right thickness, width and length. She buys it in one-pound coils, 25 coils per box.
“There’s a little embargo going on. China is refusing to ship raw materials on a timely basis. They think they can make better baskets and so they’re hoarding it all.
“It’s a very informal thing. The supply source I buy materials from is really on top of the situation and is currently in negotiations.
“Best I can tell you is sometimes we get material that has been smuggled into the country. It’s kind of embarrassing to say that, but there you go.”
Though she weaves tiny, intricate baskets for single eggs, Kleinrath doesn’t put all her eggs in one basket.
The weaver teaches seven or eight classes in basket-making each month in addition to retailing her handmade creations and a variety of folksy decor.
Christmas decorations are currently on sale at the store, by the way.
Kleinrath has many return students who enjoy the three hours it takes to complete a project. Regulars have the patience and skill to keep track of the counting required to do the work.
Some people don’t, but she doesn’t let the novices turn her into a basket case.
“I love teaching absolute beginners, people who have never done this before,” she said. “When they get it finished — the look in their eyes — they’re so proud of themselves they can’t stand it and that makes me so happy.”
Home construction highest in 5 years
WASHINGTON — U.S. builders broke ground on homes at the fastest pace in more than five years, strong evidence that the housing recovery is accelerating despite higher mortgage rates.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that developers began construction on houses and apartments in November at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.09 million. That’s 23 percent more than October’s pace of 889,000 and the fastest since February 2008, just a few months after the recession began.
Construction of single-family homes jumped 21 percent to an annual pace of 727,000, also the highest in more than five years. Apartment construction soared 26 percent to a 354,000 annual pace.
Delta: No voice calls on our planes
MINNEAPOLIS — Delta Air Lines won’t allow passengers to make voice calls from its planes.
Right now, federal rules prohibit voice calls on planes. But the government is indicating that it might loosen those rules. If that happens, it could be up to airlines to set their own policies. On Wednesday, Delta went ahead and said, in effect, hang up and enjoy the view from 40,000 feet.
CEO Richard Anderson told workers in a memo that the airline will not allow cell calls or internet-based voice communications on mainline or Delta Connection flights, which are operated by other airlines under contract for Delta based on customer and employee preference.
Atlanta-based Delta is one of the world’s biggest airlines.