As with many people, the COVID-19 pandemic got Jessica Kinney thinking about her priorities.
She loved her shop, Black Dog Pottery in downtown Centralia. She loved the people. And she loved the creativity happening in that building on a daily basis. But at the end of the day, as a small business owner and artist, she had little time for herself and her own creative endeavors.
A longtime crafter and artist who started selling some of her creations through Country Chicks in 2012, Kinney started experimenting with pottery in 2016. She opened the paint-your-own-pottery space Black Dog Pottery in downtown Centralia in 2018. Kinney said she felt confident the concept would be embraced by the community but was almost overwhelmed by how successful the idea was.
But the downside of having a busy business is that it meant long hours for Kinney and time away from her husband, Travis, and her own artwork.
“I loved being downtown and part of the downtown vibe,” Kinney said. “But when I originally opened the store, one of my biggest things was that I wanted to continue to be creative myself. As a small business owner, you kind of get pulled away from what you want to do.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring of 2020, Kinney said Black Dog Pottery had already hit its stride and she was in the midst of adding new offerings, such as slumped glass. She was also looking for a larger space because they had already outgrown their original building footprint. But social distancing and masking requirements and other struggles brought on by the pandemic made the jump to a larger space a much bigger risk financially. Supply chain issues that are still persisting also made keeping the physical space as abundantly stocked as usual very difficult.
Kinney said she and Travis also had her niece come live with them during this time in order to access a better school system during the pandemic. Kinney said she started to notice just how many things she had personally sacrificed for her business.
“Priorities of life change and it was time for me to look at things a little different,” Kinney said. “I didn’t want to disappoint all the people but there was a newer business owner in downtown Centralia who I talked to about this and they said to me ‘what do you want to do?’”
Kinney said she decided to try a new business model of take-and-paint-your-own pottery. The Kinneys built a shed at their home in Napavine to house her kiln and stock of pottery and paints from the Black Dog Pottery location. Customers now order pieces they want, pay online and pick up their kit at Anderson’s True Value in downtown Centralia. Just how a trip to the brick-and-mortar store used to go, customers choose the colors they want and the kit comes with their chosen piece of pottery, their colors and paint brushes. They can access technique videos on the Black Dog Pottery YouTube channel and Kinney plans to eventually offer weekly live tutorials as well. Customers return their painted pieces to Anderson’s True Value and Kinney takes them to be fired in her kiln and then returns the completed pieces to the drop off point.
The new Black Dog Pottery offers the same customer loyalty program and while Kinney is not currently selling new gift certificates, she is still honoring any that were sold prior to the physical location closing. Kinney said since closing the physical location of Black Dog Pottery in January, she has maintained a pretty good following and orders are still coming in. She said the new format has given her more time to focus more energy on her own crafting through her other business, JK Makery. Kinney plans to have a booth at the Community Farmers Market of Chehalis this summer, as well as several community events. She said she will have limited seasonal kits available for purchase at these events, but that customers could also use them as a pick up or drop off area for online orders.
“Once I started talking to people about it, they were understanding and excited there was still an option for the kits,” Kinney said. “There were a lot of people who said ‘I’m really inspired by you taking this step.’”