Aaron and Debbie Billingsley behind the handmade front desk in McCall Craftworks.

Making a Dream a Reality

Debbie and Aaron Billingsley and their four children moved from Boise to McCall in 2013. Debbie works as an x-ray technician at St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center. Her father worked for the Forest Service and moved the family to McCall in 1987 but Debbie didn’t stay long; in 1988 she spent a brief time in Seattle hoping to enroll in Seattle Art School before returning to Boise, her arts ambition dashed by lack of funding. Aaron grew up in Boise after moving there in 1978 from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They met and married in 1999 and set about creating a family and a life. Aaron has been a fireman with the Nampa Fire Department since 1998 and now commutes to work from McCall.

After working as an x-ray technician for 23 years, Debbie says “I always joked about quitting to open a crafts store,” smiling broadly as she stands in the middle of that dream come true, their store McCall Craftworks. While already open to the public, the Grand Opening is set for June 30th.

McCall Craftworks provides arts and crafts supplies at prices comparable to those in Boise. So far, paints have been the most popular items carried – acrylics, oils and water colors – as well as canvases. Finding wholesalers from whom to purchase stock has been challenging, according to Debbie, especially when needing so much all at once in order to open the store. Just as they have endeavored to support local businesses by buying from local shops rather than online since moving here, the Billingsleys hope to fill a gap left for local artists of all ages when McCall Drug closed. Color and texture are critical to art, and whether an experienced artist or someone wanting to experiment or dabble in something new, one can’t fully appreciate those elements by viewing a photo of a product online. “We hope that the ability to see and feel products will bring people in,” says Debbie, adding that when children enter the store they head straight for all the glittery paint options.

Just some of the paints and paper in stock at McCall Craftworks.

Inspired by Art and Artists

Debbie describes her artistic self as more crafty than artsy, although she’d love to explore her art side more. “I crochet, make jewelry and bracelets. I love photography,” she says. She notes, though, that x-rays are a sort of photography, their own art form. “I once did an MRI of a knee and there was Jesus, with a screw making a perfect halo!” she jokes. Asked whether he has an artistic side, Aaron first replies by saying he’s more into making furniture – “less carpentry, more construction” – and fixing things, then adds, “I used to do drawings, black and white with pencil, and some calligraphy when I was in school and college. But I fell out of that with work and kids.” His skill and artistry in furniture is on display in the store: Aaron made the check-out counter/desk space from blue pine harvested from Ponderosa State Park and some fallen aspen from their yard and nearby Boulder Road. The result is stunning. “The blue pine countertop piece comes from Will Smith of Tall Timbers. He counted the rings and estimates the tree was 375 years old,” says Aaron.

Musing about what it means to be artistic, Aaron reflects that there’s a certain vulnerability to art. Maybe that’s why he and others often hesitate to try something artistic and new, like painting. “My first college drawing class was taught by an older guy. He never offered a critique, he just showed us techniques. He wanted us to just do it. I was able to get comfortable quickly. I still remember, he said, ‘You want them to either love it or hate it. The worst thing is if they feel nothing. You want to evoke an emotion.’” Aaron admits to a lifelong fascination with old typewriters and handwritten letters. “I enjoy reading good writing, and love the creative part of it, how words look on paper,” he says, which explains his interest in calligraphy. The tools chosen by people to be creative fascinate him. “I always wanted to be a painter,” he says. “Maybe I wasn’t brave enough. I’m impressed with how many great artists live here.”

Some colorful Noodler’s Ink.

Aaron laments that “life” – a demanding job, family responsibilities – kept him away from pursuing art for so long. For both Aaron and Debbie, opening McCall Craftworks is all about their fervor for art and creativity. The store not only allows them to fuel their own passion, but to spark that fire in others through the supplies they stock and the classes they intend to offer.

Noting the transient nature of the area’s workforce – university kids coming to intern or work at MOSS, for example – Aaron looks forward to their influence on what the store carries and offers. “I’m so fascinated, learning from people how they’ve honed their own science for what they create. One guy mentioned a special type of ink for fountain pens called Noodler’s Ink. I looked it up and discovered it comes from a Portland, Oregon shop called Artist and Craftsman Supply. I wanted to buy every color!” Debbie smiles and adds, “It’s hard not to buy everything for inventory.”

“We’re honing in on what people want,” says Aaron. “This is a good time, when we’re new and creating inventory, for them to let us know what they want us to stock. We can order something one time or start carrying it as long as it’s something regular customers want.” They keep a running list of items people want or suggest they carry.

Learning to be Shopkeepers

Neither Billingsley has worked retail before, so opening McCall Craftworks is an adventure in business ownership and management for them. “It’s a little overwhelming,” says Debbie, who still works a flex schedule at the hospital while Aaron works fulltime as a firefighter. “Learning the business side of things – software, tax forms –  has been challenging,” adds Aaron. “Listening to the opinions of friends has been enormously helpful, right down to where to place the front desk.”

McCall Craftworks opened its doors to the public June 8th although the official grand opening will be Saturday, June 30th. Getting to this point wasn’t easy. “Finding space was our biggest challenge,” says Aaron. “We offered to buy one location, but timing and financing didn’t work out. We couldn’t find an appropriate space to rent – those we looked at were either too expensive, or the landlords were uncertain whether a store was the tenant they wanted. And we couldn’t afford to build.” Then they were shown the space at 305 E Park Street, nestled in the corner next to Granite Mountain Nature Gallery (the local rock shop). In addition to being the right size with lots of natural light in a good downtown location, it turns out Granite Mountain Nature Gallery gets lots of traffic which helps McCall Craftworks gain visibility.

The bird and flower painted on the mirror at the back of the shop.

The Billingsleys decided to have the store open seven days a week, addressing the lack of Sunday shopping options in McCall. They’ve set their hours at 10:00am – 6:00pm Monday through Saturday, and 11:00am – 5:00pm Sunday. Depending on demand, they may consider staying open later during summer months. So far, Sundays have been good sales days. The Billingsleys hope operating McCall Craftworks will be a family affair, giving their kids a sense of ownership while learning the ins and outs of retail right along with their parents. Their oldest daughter Emily, 27, lives in Oregon so hasn’t been directly involved, but the younger three – Sam, 19; Max, 17; and Lizzie, 14 – have already played some part in preparing the store for opening by helping with inventory and setting up.

After weeks of hard work painting the concrete floors and ordering and setting up displays and products, the Billingsley’s long-held dream became a reality. “The day we opened, a mom brought her young daughter – an eight-to-ten-year-old – and set her loose in the store,” says Debbie. “She grabbed some felt, purple yarn, black glitter glue, some glue-on bedazzle things. When I asked what she planned to make, the mom replied, ‘She’ll think of something!’ That’s so cool. I admire that approach.” Another child of about the same age drew a bird and flower on the wall mirror at the back of the store. “She was so happy to see it still there, a week later when she and her mom visited again,” says Debbie.

Offering Space, Supplies and Encouragement for Others to Be Creative

The Billingsleys look forward to using their McCall Craftworks store for art classes for kids. Drawn to creative people, they’re collaborating with local friends and teachers who are interested in teaching arts and crafts. Debbie and Aaron have raised their own children to pursue what inspires and excites them, rather than simply following the path they think is expected or might provide the most financial security. They’re concerned that schools are cutting arts programs because of budget constraints. Allowing more local children to experiment with art at McCall Craftworks fits nicely with their family philosophy toward life. They purposefully bought display stands on rollers that can be moved to create a large open space for classes.

Artists’ supplies in stock. Photo courtesy McCall Craftworks.

The store also sports a cozy area in the back, with easy chairs and a kitche-style table and chairs where customers can relax to read how-to books, experiment with products and do scrapbooking. Debbie is currently working on obtaining an extensive supply of scrapbooking inventory. Debbie adds that it’s apparently a thing for groups of women to go to a vacation destination together to do scrapbooking, so McCall Craftworks wants to be able to have the sorts of things such groups might need in stock when they visit McCall.

The Billingsleys envision McCall Craftworks as a space where local artists – kids and adults – can gather, even sell their creations on consignment, using available wall or floor space to display it. Debbie was impressed when visiting Moab and stopping at a store called Moab Made, a local artisan gift shop; she hopes McCall Craftworks can fill a similar niche for local artisans here. “I’d also like to add a big flat screen TV on the wall, streaming art programs,” says Debbie. “It’s soothing to watch art and calligraphy being made.” Aaron agrees, adding, “Nature and art are so closely connected; artists are often outdoorsy and creative. McCall is the perfect area for encouraging that connection.”

To find out more about McCall Craftworks – products, classes and upcoming events – visit them on Instagram, on their Facebook page, or call them at (208)630-6577.

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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