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Craftsman House Gallery & Café: ‘It’s not a home, but it is a home’

Bill DeYoung

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Jeff Schorr opened Craftsman House Gallery & Cafe in 2005. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

The sheer artistry on display at the Craftsman House Gallery & Café begins with the bungalow itself, constructed in 1918 as the model home – the very come-and-get-it showplace – for what’s now known as the Historic Kenwood District.

At 2,000 square feet, it’s a sturdy example of early 20th century craftsman architecture, cozy and warm and wonderfully wooden, with a sitting porch, a pop-up second floor that has windows on all sides (sleeping quarters for those long-ago summers without air conditioning) and a separate carriage house (for your horse, or your Model T) on the east side.

Jeff Schorr bought the building in 2003 and transformed it into a light-filled gallery space, with hand-made works by 300 artists from around the country – and, of course, the bay area. Open for business 14 years now, each room is a treasure trove of blown glass, ceramics, pottery, turned wood, fabric art and more.

The carriage house is now a working pottery studio.

Operating an art gallery is a second career for Schorr, who has an MBA in environmental engineering, but spent decades creating, and selling, clothing and gear for the surf, skate and snowboard industry.

“There’s a little bit of romanticism about that – it was a great industry, a lot of friends, people that I’m still friends with,” he says. “But it was work. And a lot of traveling. And when you look at how everything’s changed – a lot of the companies have consolidated, there aren’t as many sales reps, you’re competing with the internet …”

The native of snowy upstate New York had relocated to St. Petersburg in the 1990s. “I got a little tired of being on the road so much,” Schorr explains. “Even then, there was something special about St. Pete, the beaches and downtown.”

A longtime devotee of the Grateful Dead, Schorr credits the legendary hippie jam band, and the attendant free-thinking culture, with helping him move through the universe with eyes wide open.

“It’s been a big part of my life,” he admits, “and a lot of that has influenced me in things like community, the environment and even choosing my career path. Not staying with engineering, but doing something that I’m going to enjoy. Taking the risk.”

Opening Craftsman House was a risk – in the beginning, he had precious few retail neighbors in the burgeoning Grand Central District. Still, he persevered. A marriage came and went in the middle of things. “She took the house, and I took the business,” he smiles.

Smack in the middle of Craftsman House is a small kitchen – yes, it’s exactly where the kitchen was in the original home – and a dining counter.

Schorr makes specialty coffees, and fruit smoothies, and there’s a relatively full-service menu of sandwiches, salads and sweet treats. Beer and wine are on the menu, too.

“What’s more important now,” the proprietor explains, “is you have to create an experience. ‘Why would you want to come in here, instead of sitting on your ass in front of your computer and ordering something?’ People will come here and see all the art, but maybe they’ll also see someone working in the pottery studio.

“That was the thinking behind putting the café in. A café is a lot more work than a gallery, and a lot less money. But it brings people in. No matter what your favorite gallery is, how often are you going to go there? Whereas the café kinda gives you more of an excuse to come here more often.”

There are café regulars, just as there are regular customers who come in to peruse and/or purchase the artwork (December, understandably, is the gallery’s busiest month) or to chat with Jeff Schorr.

He’s got a lot to talk about these days, such as his recently-opened second business, Truffula Eco-Boutique. Then there was the recent announcement that he’s been chosen as one of the initial vendors for the new St. Pete Pier Marketplace (through his local arts collective, Sunshine City Arts).

As if baking cookies and brewing lattes wasn’t enough of a stretch for the owner of an art gallery, Schorr has turned Craftsman House into a listening room. Once a month, a solo acoustic performer – sometimes it’s a full band – performs for a small audience (50 max) right there in the front gallery.

“It’s like a house concert, but it also has the benefit of being a public space,” Schorr says. “I know people who are intimidated to go over to someone’s private home – not that they should be, but they are – and sometimes they’ll say to me ‘We love coming here, because it’s not a home, but it is a home.’”

Past performers have included Janis Ian, Tom Paxton, the late Jimmy LaFave, Chris Hillman, Tom Rush, John McCutcheon and the late Marty Balin, the founding lead singer of Jefferson Airplane.

Pierce Pettis performs Sunday, Dec. 8.

This Sunday, Dec. 8, the performer (at 5 p.m.) is acclaimed singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis.

In Saratoga, his New York hometown, Schorr had visited Caffé Lena, which bills itself as the oldest coffeehouse in the country. “Every now and then I’d go in there and see these musicians, with like 40 people in the room. Some were up-and-comers that became huge names, and some were more established that would come through once a year.”

As a college student, “they had a place in Harvard Square called Club Passim, and that was a card shop, it was kind of the same idea. On the weekends, they would clear out all the displays and put them up along the side, and set up chairs in the middle. They’d have these people play right there.”

Schorr brought the idea to the Craftsman House. “My partner at the time said ‘Are you crazy? We’re going to move all the pedestals, all the artwork out of these two rooms, put them in that room, set up a sound system, set up 50 chairs, do the show, break it down – and then set the gallery up again for the next morning?’”

Yes, Schorr replied. Yes, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. “I said let’s just try it once and see what happens.”

The first performer, back in 2006, was North Carolina troubadour Chuck Brodsky. “The second song in,” remembers Schorr, “we were like ‘Oh, yeah. Yeah, this is good.’”

Craftsman House Gallery & Café website is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

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    Alexandra Bolton-Schultes

    December 4, 2019at12:17 pm

    Craftsman House is great, and so is this write-up!

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