Christmas for creators: How locals who run small businesses find time for family while making everyone else's gifts

However, when the holiday-season shopping rush kicks off in the Red River Valley, local crafters and makers go into overdrive. But what does that mean for the families behind these small businesses during a family-oriented time of year?
The holiday season is here, and finding the perfect gift can be as easy as looking to your neighbor. Getty Images / Special to The Forum
The holiday season is here, and finding the perfect gift can be as easy as looking to your neighbor. Getty Images / Special to The Forum

FARGO — Holiday season is here.

With Black Friday now in the past, the holiday giving season is here, too. But choosing a unique gift for someone in your life can be as easy as looking to your neighbor.

Many makers and crafters begin their businesses creating things for their own families. However, their homes often soon begin to overflow, and they decide to set up shop to reach an even bigger audience.

From the end of November to late December, the season of giving is the true test of a small business’s strength and patience. Custom orders, bulk shipments to stores and new holiday-themed merchandise keep customers happy while they give local economies an aggressive boost in sales.

In addition to brick-and-mortar stores that sell handmade items, craft fairs and festivals offer customers a chance to shop local for the holidays. Small Business Saturday, an event dedicated to supporting small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving, showcases some handmade items perfect for the holidays. In its second year, Christkindlmarkt, hosted by Folkways at the Stone Building in downtown Fargo, is the ultimate kickoff to the holiday shopping season for small businesses and makers. This year, the market runs Thursday, Nov. 29, through Sunday, Dec. 2.

Beginning a small business in the Fargo-Moorhead area is not a difficult thing to do, and community support helps makers thrive. But what happens when businesses are busy keeping up with holiday orders during a family-oriented time of the year? Well, sometimes, these businesses become a family affair.

Live simply

Jewelry is not an uncommon product in the area, but what is uncommon is the style Dale and Kristin Kruger, owners of Bohemian Blu, use to set their creations apart.

Bohemian Blu offers customers hand-made silver and hammered brass jewelry using simplistic, Scandinavian design and other earthly elements. Bohemian Blu / Special to The Forum
Bohemian Blu offers customers hand-made silver and hammered brass jewelry using simplistic, Scandinavian design and other earthly elements. Bohemian Blu / Special to The Forum
Bohemian Blu offers customers hand-made silver and hammered brass jewelry using simplistic, Scandinavian design and other earthly elements. Bohemian Blu / Special to The Forum
Bohemian Blu offers customers hand-made silver and hammered brass jewelry using simplistic, Scandinavian design and other earthly elements. Bohemian Blu / Special to The Forum

“We focus more on simple designs,” Dale Kruger says. “Not that we don’t like things that are big and bulky and more ornate, but we are focused more on the simpler things.

Hand-hammered brass and silver combine with gemstones, ethnic beads, Swarovski crystals and leather to create a design that's both modern and timeless.

The husband-and-wife duo don’t feel the pressure of the holidays, though. With the bulk of their shows in the last three months of the calendar year, their together-time really shifts into overdrive.

“I think the good thing is we like to do it and we like to do it together,” Dale says. “If one was really busy and the other wasn’t, it wouldn’t be as much fun. We sit in our studio and do our things. We still get to do it together and and we get to spend our weekends together because we are at the shows.”

While Dale is grateful to be able to do what he loves with his wife as his partner, he does get that the busy times of the year — like the holidays — can be strenuous for families.

“It's important to have time with your person or spouse or best friend or whatever, because otherwise it’s no fun,” Dale says. “The fun part about this whole thing is not just creating it and doing it, but it’s being able to do it together. Our daughter is pretty creative too and when she is not studying, she is making bracelets and stuff out of different things. It’s really all of us doing things together.”

Where to find it: On their website, https://bohemianblustudio.com, or at craft shows, markets and events around the area.

Burn, baby, burn

Is there anything more comforting than a candle? And during the cold months of the year, keeping cozy can be as easy as wrapping in a fuzzy blanket and lighting a wick.

Or lighting a snow-white candle.

Kindling Supply Co. uses American-grown soy and simple branding to create a product that fits in every home. Kindling Supply Co. / Special to The Forum
Kindling Supply Co. uses American-grown soy and simple branding to create a product that fits in every home. Kindling Supply Co. / Special to The Forum
Kindling Supply Co. uses American-grown soy and simple branding to create a product that fits in every home. Kindling Supply Co. / Special to The Forum
Kindling Supply Co. uses American-grown soy and simple branding to create a product that fits in every home. Kindling Supply Co. / Special to The Forum

Zach and Jodee Davis, owners and founders of Kindling Supply Co., know how special the holidays are, making their big debut at the 2017 Christkindlmarkt to help locals prepare for the holidays.

“(Christkindlmarkt) was kind of the first thing we did to launch our business,” Jodee says. “We found that doing a couple of shows right away helped us become a name that people knew and associated with candles locally, we’d have people saying ‘Oh, you’re the candle people!’”

While many try to avoid the holiday season and just try to make it through, Zach and Jodee found that it was the best way to get a running start.

“Holidays are a really good time to start selling something,” Zach says. “They’re a good time to kick off a project because there are a lot of people shopping for stuff.”

Focusing the majority of their creative energy on their candles, the couple draws inspiration from nature, pairing their earthy scents with simple, black-and-white branding that can look right in any home.

Jumping into a business feet-first may have helped Kindling Supply Co. get on the map , but the simplicity of their product, coupled with the price, is what keeps them going — even during the holiday season.

“We are freelancers, so we are always working,” Jodee says. “We are never not working. This is just another project to work on. That’s the nice thing about doing this now, we don’t have to meet demands of a giant family because it is just Zach and me.”

Where to find it: In Fargo, check out Unglued, Prairie Roots Co-op and the Eighth Street Art Gallery.

It’s gettin’ hot

A lover of learning and research, Jeremiah Utecht’s trip down an online rabbit hole helped bring some heat to the land where ketchup is considered a spicy condiments.

Off the Deck Hot Sauce — a whole-recipe, fermented blend of peppers, salt, garlic and more — was founded in summer 2016, and is shipped to 28 states across the country. Austin Howard / Forum File Photo
Off the Deck Hot Sauce — a whole-recipe, fermented blend of peppers, salt, garlic and more — was founded in summer 2016, and is shipped to 28 states across the country. Austin Howard / Forum File Photo

While attending North Dakota State University, Jeremiah began cooking with peppers to stop his roommates from eating his food, a tactic that also helped ignite his love for spice. However, he eventually found the wonderful world of fermentation as a way to preserve food — and with a surplus of habaneros at his disposal, why not experiment with hot sauce?

In a video interview for "One of a Kind," a regular video series on inforum.com, Jeremiah says his wife, Rachel, is to thank for helping the region get saucy. After making and tasting their habanero sauce, now called “Habanero Hustle,” the Utechts invited friends to take a taste.

“I was still kind of hemming and hawing, so my wife held my feet to the fire and we did a large sampling at an event,” Jeremiah says in his interview. “Most people wanted to buy it — the vast majority — so if people wanted to give me money for this, I should probably make it.”

Fast forward two years, and Off the Deck Hot Sauce has made a name for itself in Fargo-Moorhead.

“There has been such a growth in the community for people like us,” Jeremiah says. “It’s amazing how easy it is to start a business in a place like Fargo-Moorhead.”

Using locally-grown peppers and other ingredients, the Utechts are truly practitioners of farm-to-table — er, bottle — making. As with most small businesses, their busy time of year has already begun. Small Business Saturday and holiday shows and markets can boost business, but also cut down on family time.

“Our growers become family,” Rachel says. “We have built relationships with many growers and the seasonal push to harvest helps them while helping us. If they do well, we do well. It all works out.”

“Making sure you love the work is important,” Jeremiah adds. “If you don’t love the work, it quickly becomes work.”

As for the Utechts? Their hot sauces are a labor of love, spicing up the Red River Valley (and beyond) one bottle at a time.

Where to find it: www.offthedeckhotsauce.com, or customers can find the sauce in Fargo stores and restaurants like Mint+Basil, Prairie Roots Food Co-Op, Unglued, Luna Fargo, Bernie’s Wine & Liquors and Baker Garden & Gift.

Scrub-a-dub

What began as an epiphany after reading the back of a soap bottle in 2012 has grown into a sudsy empire in the area.

From all-natural soap and shave bars — most of which are vegan — to sugar or salt body and lip scrubs and bath bombs and more, The Honey B Soap Co. in West Fargo begins its holiday-season preparations while the grass is still green and lush and the sun is still beating down on sunburned shoulders.

Some of Brittany Sinclair’s handmade soap sits Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in her West Fargo home ready to transport to Minot for the Pride of Dakota fair.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Some of Brittany Sinclair’s handmade soap sits Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in her West Fargo home ready to transport to Minot for the Pride of Dakota fair. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Some of Brittany Sinclair’s supplies for handmade soap are seen Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in her West Fargo home.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Some of Brittany Sinclair’s supplies for handmade soap are seen Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in her West Fargo home. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“Soap has to cure for four weeks,” Honey B Soap Co. founder Brittany Sinclair says. “All of my Christmas soaps were made in August.”

While it may seem odd that scents like peppermint, cedar and fir permeate the air in the Sinclair household at a time when bonfires, marshmallows and fresh-cut grass are in season, Sinclair says she never gets sick of the holiday smells.

“I love it. I really love it,” she says. “My favorite thing is Christmas packaging. I really love it. My husband is like, ‘Stop, you have enough!’ But I don’t! You can never have enough!”

Nowadays, the business, with it’s industrial-like kitchen and storing facility, is a family affair — with Sinclair’s children and husband getting in on the action, too.

“(My daughter) comes and sells with me and I always give her money to go shop,” Sinclair says. “She has figured out that (these shows are) her time alone with Mom and Dad. She can take credit cards and cash and I can trust her to count it back correctly. She is learning skills that she isn’t learning in school yet even.”

Life lessons and interpersonal skills aren’t the only benefits of this business. Sinclair says her soaps, which began as a safer alternative to mass-produced, chemical-filled soaps for her family, helped her be able to better provide for her children and family.

“This business has allowed me to actually put money into savings,” she says. “I can buy the kids swim lessons, if they need shoes… When people buy stuff from me, it’s not like they’re buying vacation homes. It’s just supporting a family.”

Where to find it: www.thehoneybsoapcompany.com, or customers can find products at various shops in Fargo, including Eco Chic Boutique, Prairie Roots Food Co-Op, Style and Dezine Boutique, Tochi Products and Unglued.