Shop stocked with Christmas crafts

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By April Wright, Reporter

The Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop in downtown Galax was stuffed wall to wall on Monday with handmade items like quilts, baby clothes, toys and dolls, crocheted items, Christmas ornaments, homemade soaps, hand-carved decoys, furniture, pottery, jams, pickles, CDs and books — illustrating the diverse talents of local artisans.


With a little bit of everything to offer, the only thing missing was shoppers.

After more than 40 years selling handcrafted treasures on consignment, the workers, volunteers and craft producers at Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop fear that a reduction in grants and a slowdown in the economy could put the shop out of business, unless it sees a big pickup in costumer cash flow.

This Christmas, the shop's organizers are working extra hard to get the word out and encourage shoppers to stop in.

Galax native Sarah Price remembers when the craft shop was thriving, after the late Etoile Berry got the shop off the ground by teaching craft skills to others and finding grants to get started.

“I think people have forgotten about it,” said Price, who returned as a volunteer to bring ideas to ensure the shop's survival. “People just don't realize that we have this wonderful shop here, and some have been in here once several years ago. But we've gotten way more stuff since then.”

Part of Rooftop's non-profit agency, this grant-funded business helps some local elderly crafters who depend on the income to get their medicines, put food on the table and purchase everyday needs through the sale of homemade crafts.

As with everything sold, 70 percent goes back to the crafter and 30 percent funds the operation of the shop.

“One lady told me that she relies on the selling of her quilts just to purchase her medication,” said Terri Gillespie, public relations manager of Rooftop. “She's really worried about keeping it open. This shop not only provides something good for shoppers to take home, it's helping others.”

Having close to 200 active, local producers and new merchandise coming in each day, everything is handmade.

The shop provides a perfect Christmas shopping destination for unique items. Out of hundreds of pottery, jewelry, clothing, crocheted, Christmas ornaments, furniture and art items, Gillespie said no two products in the store are alike and prices are already as low as possible.

And for Christmas, shoppers can purchase handmade baskets and fill them up with unique crafts and souvenirs throughout the store, Price suggested.

Warren Simmons, 87, of Mount Airy, N.C., has been producing new crafts for the shop for about 10 years.

“It would be a shame to see it go,” he said, as he set up his wooden, green-painted Christmas trees. “But right now, it's a bad time for any business.”

With most of the profit going to the crafters, the shop relies heavily on grants and its savings to keep itself up and running. Twenty years ago, the craft shop received nearly $50,000 in state funds. Now after sharp declines in the budget, the shop only received $13,000 to keep it operating this year, said Chris Bedsaul, executive director of Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program. Compared to last year, Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop received a 5-10 percent cut in grants.

“We've looked for new grants, but it's difficult when you have to meet so much criteria,” said Gillespie.

Located in a large space inside of Rooftop's renovated church on N. Main St., it costs nearly $3,000 to operate the shop in the summer and almost $5,000 in the winter, with most of the money going towards oil-heating expenses. Last year, the workers and volunteers even sat through a few chilly days in order to save money on heat.

And with the economy the way it is — rising energy costs and unemployment — the craft shop has already expended its savings account and the operation costs exceed the sales. Bedsaul said foot traffic and sales have remained about the same, with only a small decline in the past three years, but it's the cuts in grants that are hurting the business.

“We've had some good months, in which we've made about $2,000,” said Bedsaul. “But even if we made $5,000, we'd only keep $1,000. One month last year, we actually saw a $12 profit, and were tickled over that. It's better than having a $1,200 deficit.

“Everyone is blaming it on the economy, and I hate to blame it on that, but that's exactly what it is,” she continued.

Currently, there are no Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop paid employees. Two workers are volunteers and one receives money through District Three.

Anita Bryan, who has worked at craft shop for a decade through District Three, is scared that she may lose her job. “It's just part-time work, but since I don't have far to travel, I don't have expenses and this job is perfect for me.”

Bedsaul said she is afraid to comment on the future of the craft shop. However, in a worst-case scenario, if the shop is unable to stay open year-round, it may mean closing it during winter months and reopening for business in the summer. In fact, it will close January through March to begin revamping the store and encouraging producers to make more top-selling items and save money on heating. Bedsaul said the shop hardly ever breaks $1,000 during those months.

The shop has even cut back on hours in hopes of saving money on heating and electricity, Bedsaul said.

“We started this as a service, and a lot of clients who are elderly rely on sales of the craft shop. We're trying to do everything we can to keep it open, but you can only do so much with so little.”

• For more information, call 236-7131. Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop is located at 206 N. Main St. in downtown Galax. A satellite location full of handmade crafts is located at the visitors' center at Grayson Highlands.