Editor’s note: This article is part of a continuing series about what Asheville, N.C. is doing to build and promote its craft culture. I tagged along with a group of Sanford business leaders on a fact-finding trip to the mountain city. This is what we learned. To read more about the purpose of the trip, go here.

Asheville’s craft beer scene was the reason for our fact-finding trip, but it turns out the community in Western North Carolina sees craft as more than just beer. Craft is a lifestyle in the mountain city.

So what is “craft?”

That word often conjures up images of 20-somethings with shaggy beards pontificating about what yeast is needed to make the perfect kombucha, or debating the merits of making your own mayonnaise instead of buying a jar of Duke’s.

Craft is that, I suppose, but it’s much more inclusive.

In Asheville, craft = local, whether your talking about beer (which grabs a lot of of the attention), food, products, the arts, services or experiences. The folks in Asheville also consider craft to mean that the owner of the business is directly involved in creating the product or service you’re buying, or only a step or two removed from the process if the business has been successful. Ashevillians embrace the culture of craft.

You could say that craft is small business, and that’s true but the term “small business” is rather bland. Craft, however, exudes an attitude and a feeling. Talk to any marketing expert and they’ll tell you people who make an emotional connection to your business are more likely to buy what you’re selling.

So what’s craft in Sanford? Our breweries and our restaurants are obvious inclusions. So too are our art venues. Here are some other Sanford businesses I would include in the culture of craft:

  • Craft is Escape Artists in downtown, an escape room adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles using clues, hints and strategy to exit the room before time runs out.
  • Craft is Red Hill Groves, which sells citrus from it’s own local groves and serves up tasty orange ice cream.
  • Craft is American Bronze Foundry, a company known worldwide for producing museum-quality castings, including 3,000 pieces for the Vatican.
  • Craft is Sal’s Italian Ice, especially on a hot day when you need to cool down with a sweet treat.
  • Craft is Florida Shade Co., the state’s leader in designing, building and installing custom shade structures for clients like the Hyatt Regency Grand Cyrpess Hotel, Florida Hospital, Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World.
  • Craft is LimoCycle and Sanford Food Tours that provide visitors and residents alike a unique way to experience Sanford.
  • Craft is Maya Books, independent bookstores are a dying breed, but not in Sanford.
  • Craft is the Rivership Barbara-Lee, a great way to explore Lake Monroe and  the St. Johns River, one of the city’s greatest natural resources.
  • Craft is Chocolate Compass, located at the south end of the city, it’s simply Central Florida’s best chocolatier.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are dozens more.

I would also argue that the craft lifestyle extends to businesses that don’t fit a traditional definition of craft. For example, I would add Sanford Ace Hardware on 25th Street to Sanford’s culture of craft. Ace is a national chain, but the company’s franchise system gives local owners lots of autonomy to operate their business to fit the needs of the community. Plus, the Parsell family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to charities and nonprofits in Sanford. That’s craft.

I would also include a company like Harrell & Beverly Transmissions and Auto Repair. The business has a 50-plus year history in Sanford, and Nelson Beverly and his wife Christina helped create the Love Your Shorts Film Festival, which definitely fits the definition of craft. When your family is interwoven into the fabric of the community for as long as the Beverly family has been, that’s craft.

The craft lifestyle also requires authenticity, and Sanford oozes authenticity. In a transient region like Central Florida where longevity is sometimes measured in months, Sanford will celebrate its 140th birthday in September. We have real history. We have a real downtown. We have a real community. No one would consider Celebration or Disney World to be craft. Sanford is craft.

So what does all of this mean? How can Sanford create and use the craft lifestyle for a better quality of life and economic development, which was the goal of the trip? I don’t have those answers. It’s something the residents and businesses need to create.

I think it starts with each one of us supporting and promoting those businesses that embrace the culture of craft. Each of us will have our own definition about how to define the term, and that’s cool. The important thing is to do business with those that provide quality things we need and also contribute in some way to make our community better.

And businesses should start looking to other businesses for strategic partnerships. For instance, what if Wops Hops Brewing Co. made a special beer for the Willow Tree’s annual Octoberfest party? Or Chocolate Compass teamed up with Wondermade Marshmallows to create a special chocolate-covered treat? Or Red Hill Groves partnered with the Colonial Room to serve fresh juice? Regulations and business plans may prevent these specific partnerships, but you get where I’m going with this idea.

If we start adopting a culture of craft in small ways, then the right ideas on marketing campaigns, recruiting efforts and strategic business partnerships will come.

So I’d like to hear your ideas. Is it possible to build a culture of craft in Sanford? What businesses in town already embody that term? And what are your ideas about the culture of craft?

Email me at Dan@TheBokey.com or post a comment of the Facebook page.

 

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