SYDNEY, NS — Alisha Barron isn’t quite sure if her downtown Sydney shop is a pottery painting studio or a coffee shop with a new patio, or both.
“It’s just fun to be here,” says the owner of Fired Creations, a business she started almost four years ago after noticing a demand for more craft workshops in the area.
“The Cape Breton Center for Craft and Design is a great place, but if you need art therapy, a stress-free environment, a caffeine shot, or even a shot of rum, we’ve got it. We love our café, but we’re not really a café, we’re a pottery café.”
Fired Creations has been independent of its label since opening in September 2018, when Barron established the shop on the corner of George and Townsend streets in the building that was the former headquarters of ACAP Cape Breton and which housed the Royal many years previously , a popular destination The bank’s branch in downtown Sydney.
The business has thrived so well that Barron has continued to invest in its future by purchasing the building last year after renting the premises for three years. And the property now boasts a tidy, fenced-in patio where guests can sit outside while painting their pottery pieces and/or enjoying a coffee, snack and/or alcoholic beverage from the licensed indoor cafe.
“We hope our new licensed patio will attract more people because last summer, especially on nice evenings, we didn’t see anyone coming in after dinner,” she noted.
Not like other companies
On one of the last warm days, Barron was holding court at one of the many craft tables in the former bank, which still includes a vault that she used as a photo booth before converting it into a craft room.
“It’s been good,” said the Ingone native, who before opening Fired Creations had a variety of jobs, including a four-year stint in a jewelry store, fishing, car sales, table serving and door-to-door sales.
“Since opening I’ve learned that this is a different kind of business. For example, on rainy days I have to call in more staff, while on hot summer days business can falter because people want to be outside.
“So the summer is what I would call our slow season. But on weekends in the high season and especially in the March holidays you can’t get in here without a reservation.”
Barron also acknowledged that her business is somewhat COVID-19 safe compared to many other businesses that rely on personal customers and customers.
“Business has actually taken off during COVID,” she said.
“In the first year of the pandemic, when no one knew what was going on, I thought maybe we should get some kits to take home because painting takes your mind off things. I was expecting maybe 30 or 40 households to take advantage of it, but the next morning I opened my email inbox and found well over 120 interesting messages. And they just kept coming.”
How it works
So, what’s the deal with Fired Creations?
Although people are encouraged to make reservations, especially during busy times, it is not required. On this special day, a group of four entered the building and immediately made their way to a huge wall display of unpainted ceramic and clay pieces. Some are manufactured on-site, including a casting room and a slab rolling room, but most are purchased from an Ontario-based supplier. After each picked a piece, the four budding artists made their way to a quiet corner table where they began painting.
“It’s a wonderful place to come to,” said Adrienne Collins, who was joined by daughters Evelyn and Amelia and their mother, Kathy MacIntosh.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been here, but we’ve been down quite a few times. It makes a lot of fun.”
Collins and her mother had chosen mugs to paint while eldest daughter Evelyn got on a horse and Amelia was busy decorating the Highland cow she had chosen.
According to Barron, clients can complete their artwork in one session or take it home before completing it another time.
“Some people come in and paint something within a day and leave it with us to fire in the kiln, which can reach a temperature of around 1,800 F,” she said.
“I’ve also had people keeping pieces off for over a year. They will come back and forth to work on a piece they want to make time for. I’ve seen people take 30 hours to paint a mug.”
Collection days for the finished product are usually Tuesdays and Fridays.
fun and joy
When Barron founded Fired Creations, she had a newborn baby girl, a 19-month-old daughter, and a 10-year-old stepson. Somehow she managed to balance family and work.
“Before opening this I was home on maternity leave while my husband was busy traveling back and forth to work in the west. I’m smart by nature so I thought I might take a class or something, but due to the circumstances I couldn’t commit to a regular weekly time.”
“Then I thought, well, maybe Cape Breton needs another place for crafts since so many people complain that there isn’t enough to do here. I’ve never made pottery in my life, but I thought it might work.”
Barron and her team spent two months renovating the building before Fired Creations opened. Business was going well, but it took a lot of time. Then COVID-19 hit and Barron had to turn around to adapt to the changing world. She was busy.
Now she spends more time living what she sells. And it’s a fun and satisfying activity in a positive, safe, and stress-free environment.
“I always take Sundays off and now I spend Thursdays at home, although I will do some business paperwork. And I like to get away early on Saturdays to spend more time with my family.”
Barron said she finds her business rewarding. She loves to see smiling faces enjoying their time. She also enjoys telling stories about what activities like pottery can mean to people under certain circumstances.
“A few years ago, a friend approached me whose mother was in the palliative care unit at the hospital,” she recalls.
“My girlfriend didn’t know what to get her for Christmas. So I suggested that she bring Christmas decorations to the hospital and paint with her mother. In the end, the mother drew one for each of her children. She died a few months later. Your children now have these ornaments. That is priceless.”