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Artsy Entrepreneurs in Elizabeth City, NC

The region's network of creative makers supports one another.

By Kelly Rogers on April 26, 2023

Swade Woodworks
Swade Woodworks

Not everyone has what it takes to venture into the unknown and pursue their artistic passion as a career — but living in the right place with a community that supports the arts can make all the difference.

That’s exactly what Elizabeth City, North Carolina, offers: an environment where artsy entrepreneurs can thrive, not just because residents support local businesses, but also because there’s a spirit of cooperation, rather than competition, among the many makers who call the city home.

‘Word Travels Quickly’

Steven Harris, owner of Swade Woodworks, went full time with woodworking in 2020 after years of making furniture for himself, family and friends. Harris uses locally sourced hardwoods and reclaimed materials to make quality furniture and home decor that lasts.

A recent transplant to the area, he’s found it to be the right fit for his business.

“Being an artist in Elizabeth City has been great,” he says. “We joined the Elizabeth City Chamber of Commerce in August and have attended multiple networking events, and it’s been nice to meet and talk with the other members.”

In fact, networking is what makes the city so great for creative entrepreneurs, Harris says.

“Elizabeth City is a small community, and word travels quickly,” he says. “Many business owners are really open to promoting new businesses and artists.”

Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon

‘Small Town, Big Art’

Chance Kitchens founded Copper Canyon in August 2021 due to what he saw as a huge lack of plant-based products on the market for people who suffer from eczema, psoriasis and sensitive skin.

“We handmake every single product in our store, right in front of the customers,” Kitchens says.

“We do this to showcase how bath products are made and the ingredients that we put into each product.”

Kitchens travels across the country to pick up many of his ingredients to save on shipping costs and keep prices low, and he tells everyone he meets about why he loves Elizabeth City so much.

He encourages other aspiring artists to share their work, especially at the First Friday ArtWalk, which features local art for the community to peruse and purchase.

“Elizabeth City is a small town with big art,” he says. “Downtown Elizabeth City and all of the small owner businesses are the heartbeat of EC – we all work together and come up with some pretty amazing collaborations.”

Sultry Scent Co.
Eric Waters

‘So Much Support’

Annie Castillo, owner of Sultry Scent Co., founded her candle-making business in 2020 after family and friends encouraged her to start selling at local markets.

Castillo runs Sultry Scent while still working a full-time job, so support from local nonprofits and other organizations has been vital to the growth of her business.

“I’ve gotten so much support from the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Center at the College of the Albemarle, my customers, my family and the business center at Elizabeth City State University, just to name a few,” Castillo says.

‘Don’t Hesitate’

Danielle and Brian Rand moved to Elizabeth City five years ago and say it was “easily the best decision we have made.”

They founded their company, Lavoro Leather, to reintroduce handmade quality goods and true artisanship into the general marketplace. Their signature symbol, which is featured on every piece they create, is a hummingbird.

The husband-and-wife duo sings the praises of Elizabeth City and the supportive community of business owners to anyone who will listen.

“It’s a city of business owners that love and support each other — the warmth of this business community is almost unheard of in other cities,” Danielle Rand says.

“You are not in competition with the businesses here; in fact, they are all your family, and we love to show off each other’s work.”

Their advice for artists considering moving to Elizabeth City?

“Don’t hesitate – just get here,” Brian Rand says. “This city will soon be the central location for artisans, and we plan on being here for a very long time.”

U.S. Coast Guard District 5
Stephen Lehmann/CR Coast Guard News/Flickr.com

Art Beyond the Private Sector

Creativity isn’t siloed to Elizabeth City’s local businesses. At the Coast Guard’s Industry Operations Division Machine Shop, for example, team members draw on their creativity, resourcefulness and expertise to overhaul and repair aircraft parts.

Travis Elmore, machine shop work leader, guides his team as they take raw materials — like aluminum and titanium — and transform them into the needed parts to keep the Coast Guard’s aircraft in tip-top flying condition.

“It is an art,” Elmore says. “It’s really cool to take something from raw material and turn it into a working, movable part that actually flies on airplanes and helicopters that go out and save lives every day.”

Most of the machine shop’s projects involve making parts that wouldn’t arrive in time, or manufacturing parts for aging aircraft that aren’t sold anymore. These parts have to be incredibly precise, down to thousandths of an inch, and go through multiple quality checks and inspections before being placed in the aircraft. Sometimes, the team can use original engineering manufacturing prints (OEMs) as a template, but other times, they have to create and innovate from scratch, working the problem from the ground up.

For instance, there was a situation where a very expensive engine was slated to be scrapped because of some broken, hardened studs that rendered it unusable. Elmore and his team asked for the opportunity to try to get the studs out, and they designed and built a custom fixture that saved the engine (and millions of taxpayer dollars).

“In our shop, we never say never,” Elmore says. “If man made it, we should be able to fix it.”

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