The view of the workspace through Precious Metal Arts street-side window at 280 N. 8th St. is eclectic. Strewn across the workbench are no fewer than four pairs of reading glasses, a landline phone, and delicate chisels fallen like pickup sticks in a small, rickety wooden box. A layer of dust and metal shavings coats everything.
A t Mike Rogers shop in Downtown Boise, paintings by local artists hang from the walls, and bejeweled rings and necklaces glisten from glass cases. A desk, on which rests a sketchpad and business cards, divides the Precious Metal Arts showroom from the workshop. Unlike retailers, Rogers designs and crafts custom jewelry, and allows the messy, artisan part of his job to be the first thing potential customers see of his work from the street.
Rogers is a member of the small group of artisans and craftspeople who run tiny shops in the Treasure Valley. Though they are few, they occupy a disproportionately valuable place in Boises economy and its residents lives. Ask around: Nearly everyone has a little place to go to for custom goods or niche services. Here are three.
PRECIOUS METAL ARTS
Rogers spreads his arms wide and chuckles through his graying, pointed goatee to explain why hes still in the business of casting customized jewelry after 25 years.
Its the simplest answer in the world: I fell in love with it! he says. I started getting into custom work and Im still obsessed all this time later.
Rogers has repaired and wholesaled jewelry since 1987 but got hooked on building custom jewelry when he made his first piece, a guitar-shaped bolo tie. In 1997, he started Precious Metal Arts, and in 1998, he moved to his current location.
The business of working with precious metals and stones requires tremendous familiarity with his materials, and Rogers says his favorite is an alloy of 90 percent platinum and 10 percent iridium. On its own, platinum lacks the hardness to make durable jewelry; its the iridium that makes the platinum tough enough for a lifetime of use. But at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, its melting temperature makes it difficult to work in a shop as small as Rogers.
Its the metal from the jewelry gods, Rogers says.
A custom piece of jewelry at Precious Metal Arts can cost $1,000 or more, and some pieces cost as much as $40,000.
As well as he has to know his metals and gems, Rogers says he also needs insight into his customers minds. At every step of the customization process, Rogers consults with his clients and looks for inspiration to help him realize and sometimes improve upon his clients ideas.
Youre trying to get into peoples heads and build them something better than they could have imagined, he says.
That process begins with getting to know the people with whom hes working, sitting them down with a sketchpad to get an initial impression of the piece of jewelry they want.
I start sketching until were both going, Hey! Rogers says.
Next, he carves a lost-wax cast model of the jewelry, a 3D replica of the concept he discussed with his client. After reviewing the model with his customer, he uses its cast to create the final piece of jewelry. If ever the jewelry is lost or stolen, Rogers can recreate the jewelry using the cast, and he keeps a handful of wax jewelry models in a dish on his desk.
TAILORING BY CHI
Chi Dao works out of the basement of her brothers house in the North End, and from the outside, theres little suggestion that business beyond that of living takes place there. With its pinwheel, the sign in front of the concrete stairwell leading down to Tailoring By Chi at 1404 W. Washington St. looks more like a political campaign sign than an indicator of business.
This is misleading, as Dao who sometimes works late into the night and sleeps in her studio applies herself to her trade with uncommon diligence, doing everything from sewing custom wedding dresses to hemming pants.
Sometimes when Im busy I stay here, she says in halting English. Sometimes my customers need work done over the weekend, and I help them.
A native of Vietnam who moved to Boise in 1998, she has tailored for more than 30 years. Between 1998 and 2003, she worked at The Bridal Shop and L&W Rental, selling formal dresses and performing alterations.
In 2004, she opened Tailoring By Chi in its current location and has been building buzz for her company by word of mouth.
A lot of people dont know me, she says. Friends tell each other about me.
While a lot of Daos business comes from sewing and alterations, she says much of her work comes from customers who want to recreate clothing they see in the media. Removing a leopard-print jacket from a plastic bag, she explains that it took her five hours to make based on a photo the customer gave her and that she did it with almost none of the information about the intended wearer that a tailor would need to make clothing.
She told me to take this picture. Its hard I had no measurements, she says.
Her specialty, however, is making prom and formal dresses, which hang against the wall of her shop and range in price from under $100 up to $230. She bases the prices of the dresses on the level of difficulty in making them. The most expensive dresses are long, and they contain embroidery or many layers of material.
For her, tailoring is a mission. She gets a feeling of success when she sees her customers in the clothing she has made for them.
When I see theyre wearing what I make, Im really happy, she says. I just want them to be happy with my work because I love my job.
The entrance to Customized Hair belies the cavernous salon beneath. An obscure door at 928 W. Main St. leads to a labyrinthine stairwell marked by an ancient barbers pole and a bike parked outside bearing a sign that reads, The barber is in.
At Customized Hair, owner Pam Wolf-Hobson has two stylists who cut hair, but her own specialty is hair replacement: providing hair to people who are losing it or who have none at all.
The services and costs of hair replacement can range from adding hair extensions at $225 for 1,200 hairs, to a high-end full cranial prosthesis in short, a wig for $2,500. And Wolf-Hobson provides these services to a variety of clients, from teenage girls who want longer hair for a special event, to people suffering from natural or medically related hair loss.
Loss of hair from chemotherapy, alopecia areata (a skin disorder that causes patchy hair loss), gastric bypass surgery, hormonal changes or thyroid medications has become a greater part of Wolf-Hobsons business. In the last two to three years, she says, women have come to make up half of her clientele.
The medically related part of my business is getting bigger, she says.
In her private studio, separated from the rest of the salon by window shades and a door, Wolf-Hobson consults with people losing their hair. It takes 12-14 days for a chemotherapy patient to begin to shed, and she says the loss can have an enormous emotional impact.
Thats why I have this private room. People are devastated when they lose their hair: One day, their hair looks great; the next, its going away, she says.
Wolf-Hobson has been cutting hair since 1984 and began specializing in hair replacement in 1991.
I wanted something to add some variety to my business, she says.
Today, it accounts for 65 percent of her business.
In 1992, she left her previous employer, Custom Hair and Co. in Boise, and started Customized Hair, receiving from her old employer the barber pole that has been at the top of the stairs for the nearly eight years the salon has occupied its basement suite.
That barber pole is my pride and joy. Its like my baby, she says.
Harrison Berry: email@example.com