By KATIE WATTS / Petaluma Towns correspondent
It’s a crisp, blue morning in mid-December and the parking lot at Graham’s Country Crafts is crowded with the cars of the Tuesday morning regulars.
Graham’s is one of those places you might happen upon by accident – it’s 8 miles out of town on Pepper Road. But, once you know the way, you’ll want to go back for a number of reasons.
There’s the trip itself: it’s fun to drive west into the rolling hills between Petaluma and the coast.
There’s the store. You know how Friedman Brothers hardware marquee trumpets, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”? Graham’s motto could be a twist on that: “If you need it, we probably have it.”
And why not? The business offers enough material to fill a barn – maybe because it is a barn.
The store’s been in business since 1971. Craft trends have surged and ebbed in those four-plus decades and Graham’s has followed many of them, stocking the supplies needed. If you want to pick up the fun of 1970s macramé, for example, get thee to Graham’s.
Or you can build a wreath, decorate a miniature Christmas tree, fabricate dolls, cross stitch a bookmark, produce tole painting, buy enough ribbon or silk flowers to stretch from here to, say, Vacaville. Want to decorate for any holiday, fashion a nutcracker, dream up a dream catcher, master beading, fabricate jewelry, learn woodburning? Graham’s offers supplies and a vast array of instruction books.
Finally, there’s the warm friendliness of proprietors Helen and Carl Graham.
“I was going to retire when I turned 80,” says Helen, now 81. It’s clear she enjoys the friendship she receives from class members and customers.
She laughs when asked why there’s a crafts shop in her family barn. In the early 1970s, she explains, she was working in town for someone who asked her a rather odd question, “Do you have a high school diploma?”
Helen did – from Petaluma High – and said so. “We need someone with a high school diploma to teach crafts.” Helen said she didn’t know anything about crafts and was told they’d teach her, if she’d agree to run the classes for adult education.
They taught her, and she taught the classes. But, she said, “There were no buildings available in Petaluma that were safe at night for seniors.” She asked if it would be possible for her to teach out of one of the buildings on the family ranch and was told yes. Eventually, the classes grew so popular, “we outgrew our little building.” Hence the move to the barn.
The east end of the store is a large, open room with a view of those rolling hills. It’s warmed by a big stove, lined with long tables and smells deliciously of spiced cider. Boo, the black cat, has a nest on the table nearest the stove.
Seated at the tables are a number of women painting plaster plaques and figures. Jennifer Young is jouncing her 5-month-old son Paxton, big-eyed and smiling. “He’s been coming here since he was conceived,” his mother says. “Even babies like it here.”
Young enjoys the fun of crafts class, and the friendship. “I have so many grandmas and moms in this room.”
Seated near her is Doris Strech, who’s attended classes at Graham’s “off and on over thirty years.” She enjoys the ceramics she creates almost as much as the camaraderie. “It’s a big happy family – and then there are super nice people who own it.”
Classes that have been taught over the years have included candle making, decoupage, bisque work and tole painting. “Every year,” recalls Carl, 83, “when we went to crafts show, we’d take classes, buy supplies and come back with new crafts to teach.”
Business is quieter now, and classes are fewer. “The times are changing,” Carl says, citing the economy, distance from town, spread of big box stores and growth of the internet.
Still, they say, their stock is so large that crafters who know of them, “when they can’t find something anywhere else, they come here.”
For customers, the fun is in the discoveries. The store is big enough that you can get enjoyably lost. Every way you turn, there’s a new box or bin, shelf or rack loaded with goodies. The walls and ceiling are covered with creations old and new. Pretty soon your hands are full and you need a basket, or more. And when you’ve paid for your new treasures and gone out the door, its friendly bell tinkling farewell as pleasantly as it chimed hello, you blink in the bright daylight at the shop’s window boxes, planted with painted wooden tulips.
You get into your sun-warmed car and wave good-bye to the magic of Graham’s, resolving to go back – soon.
Graham’s Country Crafts is at 2865 Pepper Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays. Call 795-7514.
Classes are offered Monday nights and Tuesday mornings in plastercraft, tole painting, plastic canvas, beads, papier-mâché, fabric painting, glass etching, Friendly Plastic, macramé, pen and ink, wreaths, ribbon, decoupage, quilling, painting on glass and seasonal decorations. Cost is $40 to $50 per eight-week session; supplies not included. Oil painting and Hummel classes and children’s parties are also available.