Exceptional Retailer 65: Gathering Glass Designs



Gathering Glass Designs started with some famous names in the glass-blowing game and continues on today with a focus on supporting local artists and educating its customers

Sometimes, as Melissa Todd will attest, you just end up in the right place at the right time.

Ten years ago, she wasn’t exactly getting into the glass business thinking it would be her new career. Funny how things turn out, because here we are, 10 years later and her shop Gathering Glass Designs is a heady hunter’s dream.

The small store, nestled in Bellingham, Wash., an hour and a half outside Seattle, was born at the hands of famous glass blowers before they became stars in their world. It continues today with Todd at the helm, maintaining the exact same focus: Giving exposure and opportunity to talented local glass artists.

It’s more of a glass gallery than a traditional smoke shop, and at Gathering Glass, they’ve been doing the glass gallery concept before it became trendy in bigger cities.

“Our mission statement is we carry all local glass,” Todd said. “Our goal is to carry as many local artists as we can.”

Over the years, the idea of “local” has changed. At first it was literal — it was Todd’s friends right there in Bellingham, then the focus expanded to artists in the Washington and Oregon areas (and there are some great ones!) Soon enough, it was artists from all over the country who carried the same ethos as the Gathering Glass Designs crew.

That’s partially because the original crew had gone national itself.

The shop started when Todd moved to Bellingham with her boyfriend, who was a glass blower. He and some friends decided to open a glass studio/shop with their style of glass art at the forefront. Rather than fight their way in other shops in town that weren’t as local-friendly, they started their own.

“In this town, there’s really only two stores,” Todd said. “But they wouldn’t buy a lot of local stuff. This town has a lot of really good glass blowers too.”

A couple of them were part of Gathering Glass Designs in the early days and are now among the biggest names in the industry: Jake Colito, who most people know as Jake C. from the giant known as Mothership Glass. Also in the building in the early days: Lacey St. George, known as Laceface, an award-winning artist who ranks among the industry’s most creative.

“I learned everything about looking for good quality from Jake,” Todd says. “And I watched him grow into the great artist that he is now.”

In the early days, they all lived together in a house, blowing glass at the studio and selling it in the gallery. It’s how Todd learned to blow glass and how the shop endeared itself to the talented glass artists around the Pacific Northwest.

Over time, things changed. Jake joined Mothership Glass. Laceface moved. But the shop kept chugging along. It moved out of its original space and into a nicer spot downtown that brought more foot traffic.

“I’ve been running the store from the start,” Todd said. “I helped paint it. I put shelves up.”

Before coming to Bellingham, glass wasn’t her foray. She worked 12 years in the women’s health industry. She had plenty of admin experience and applied that to the glass business.

“Everyday, I was learning,” she said. “I leaned on people I met at trade shows and events like Degenerate Flame Off.”

Back in the early days, they’d buy pieces from artists who weren’t famous yet, because Jake would say to buy from this artist or that one. The pipes would sometimes sit in the shop for a while as the artists’ popularity grew and that $200 pipe would soon be worth $2,000. Not bad.

“We had so many hidden gems,” Todd says.

These days, the shop works with about 100 different glass artists including 30 or so from the direct local area. Among the artists that have been featured at Gathering Glass over the years: Buck, Dellene Peralta, Micah Evans, Sagan, Dosa, Merc, Alex Ubatuba, T-Funk and Whitney Harmon.

And even though the Pacific Northwest is a little more glass-forward than other places, the crew at Gathering Glass still has to educate its customers about why glass from local artists is better than cheap imports.

“Some people don’t understand what the difference is,” Todd says. “We explain what’s different, what the quality is, what the standards are.

“That’s been the whole goal,” Todd says. “To get artists’ name out there and show people what they can do.”

Mission accomplished.














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