Therese Snyder is a visionary.
When others see a piece of furniture beyond its prime, or come to her with memories of what an item used to be, she sees it for what it could be.
Every day at her West City business, Southern Sassy Creations, Snyder transforms furniture and other pieces into something more than her customers ever imagined.
“I do a little bit of everything with furniture,” she explains. “It’s a combination of upcycling, repurposing, refinishing, painting and more.”
Surrounded by three dozen pieces waiting for her magic, Snyder explained how she began restoring and reworking furniture.
“I had always played around with it as a hobby, but it really started when I was a young mom,” she recalled. “I was a teen mom and didn’t have much money. People would give me things, but I didn’t love them, so I would create and try to make them pretty. It was trial and error.”
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Eventually, she would see pieces at rummage sales and flea markets, imagining what they could be.
“I’d say, ‘that would make a pretty this or pretty that,’ and people wouldn’t be able to get into my brain and see what I would see,” she shared. “I would purchase it, bring it home and make something beautiful.”
Before long, others took notice of what she was creating.
“People would bring me stuff and I would just make it pretty. Then someone asked on Facebook if any of their friends if they knew someone who could turn their grandmother’s dresser into a bench. I got tagged on the post and it’s never stopped since.”
She is currently working on another piece from a dining room: turning the top of a hutch into a decorative piece to hang on a wall and the bottom of the hutch into a bench as a memorial to the family’s grandmother.
She also has roll-top desks, bedroom suites and dining sets in process.
“Some people want their pieces to look completely different, but others just want them to be restored to the way they looked originally,” she said.
Often, customers are not certain what they want, so Snyder presents them with options and sometimes surprises.
Her process is to take everything “down to the bones,” she said, stripping pieces of paint, varnish and other finishes before cleaning, conditioning and applying primer. The entire process, complete with curing time and necessary drying, can take several weeks. Snyder moves from one project to another regularly, multitasking on a variety of pieces each day. She stops only long enough to take in another project. That is when her ability to see beyond peeling paint and decaying wood comes into play.
“As soon as they start unloading it, I know what I want to do with it,” said Snyder, who is part woodworker, part painter, part designer and a little bit show-woman. In fact, one of her favorite ways to approach her craft is with secrecy, not giving customers a peek at her work until it is finished.
“If I do a piece for you, you’re not going to see it until it is finished and staged. Clients have to trust me. I love it when customers finally see it. They get so excited, sometimes they even pick me up, jumping with joy,” she said. “The best part is seeing their faces. Sometimes they get pretty emotional, especially if it is a really special piece from their family that now has a new life. It is so much fun.”
Snyder said she has had customers bring her work from as far away as Florida.
“They just drop them off and go on down the road, then I’ll call them when it’s all done,” she said.
Her hope is to continue to grow Southern Sassy Creations, perhaps even bringing on a staff member.
“If I had somebody that could do a lot of the hard, hard work, I could do more of the easy stuff,” she said with a grin.
December Business Spotlights
Colorado couple's local disc golf business began with a 'Spider house' in Benton, Illinois
Here’s the scenario: two people from Colorado – one with a detail-oriented personality, the other with passion for a growing sport – were looking to relocate somewhere with a historic home in need of renovation.
They find the perfect place in Southern Illinois, and combine their move and interests into an opportunity to launch a unique new business.
This is the story of Matt Locke, a manager for a software company, who realized during the COVID-19 pandemic that he could work from anywhere. Willing to take advantage of the opportunity and sharing a desire with his domestic partner Katie Lee to find a home with “old character,” he began looking to relocate.
Working state by state eastward from Colorado, the couple searched for homes online. One, in Benton, captured their imagination.
“When we hit Illinois, we found this crazy house and on picture 23 or 26, there was a gold spider on the ceiling of one of the rooms and it turned out that in every window in that room there was an ornate spider web,” he explained. “We called it the spider house.”
Turns out the couple had discovered a 6,000-square foot, three-story home on Benton’s McLeansboro Street built in 1910 by prominent banker, entrepreneur and farmer Robert Ward. Formerly home to a stained glass business, the house had the character the couple was looking for.
Their new home had plenty of acreage, too, perfect for Locke to practice his disc golf shots. He is an enthusiast for the sport where players throw flying discs at targets. The game is played much like traditional golf, with the number of throws required from tee to target counted for scores. Like golf, low scores are preferable.
Considering the growing popularity of disc golf in the region, Locke’s interest in the sport, Lee’s desire for a new challenge and, thanks to a converted school bus – also with “character," a new business was born.
“We discovered a lot of people in the area already played disc golf, but there was not a lot of places to get discs,” explained Locke. “There are so many different plastics, so many different brands and molds. You can’t get a feel of how a disc is going to feel online; there’s just no way, but touching discs before you buy them is imperative.”
To help disc golfers and grow the sport, the pair, using their new home as inspiration for a name and the converted small school bus as a mobile retail unit, launched Spider House Disc Golf earlier in the year.
While the company offers discs and accessories online, a main focus of the business is setting up shop at tournaments and disc golf events around the region.
“Matt brought a lot of the passion for the sport and I brought passion for small business,” Lee explained. “We both wanted to start a small business and I just didn’t know what it was. Disc golf is perfect for us. With the bus, our overhead is small.”
“Katie grabbed the rings of the business and did a great job,” he added. “She has set up all of the relationships with companies, got our store up and running and it’s been perfect. We drive around to tournaments and set up and people love it.”
Disc golfers can play an entire course with just a single disc, but like traditional golfers, many use specialized equipment depending on the course and required shot. Special “driver” discs, mid-distance discs and “putters” are all available.
With disc golf courses in Anna, Carbondale, Carterville, Cobden, Goreville, Marion and other area communities, Locke said the sport is taking off in Southern Illinois.
“I think we have a subtle glow right now, but it is about to ignite,” he said. “We’re averaging about 1,400 new courses nationally each year. It’s growing insanely rapidly in Southern Illinois.”
He said it is a great game for area residents.
“Disc golf is perfect for Southern Illinois for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest ones is that it is such an affordable sport to get into,” Locke said. “You can get a starter set of discs for $14.99 and you could care that for years, plus most of the courses are free. It’s a really great way for people to get outside and play for a very low price.”
The couple plans on converting the carriage house at their new home in Benton into a bed-and-breakfast catering to disc golfers who will even be able to play on-site.
Locke said the pair sees themselves not only as advocates for disc golf, but also for entrepreneurship in the region.
“We want to serve as inspiration for other people – to encourage them to do something similar with their own passions. We want to let them know that they can be successful in a job that they love if they will just put in some effort and dream a little,” Locke said.
November Business Spotlights
When Jason Smith was looking to pivot from an electronic cigarette business to something new, he chose a new arena: virtual reality.
Murphysboro man sells handmade pocket dice, wooden board games
Admittedly, Brandon Byars was too cheap to pay to have a wooden board game shipped from England.
“It was going to cost like a bazillion dollars,” he exaggerated, but stressed it would be costly.
There was just one other option. A lifelong woodworker, the Murphysboro resident decided he could make his own version of Babinga, a game where players try to use an elastic cord to shoot wooden pucks through a small hole and onto their opponent’s side of the board.
He didn’t realize that his woodworking skills and his miserly ways would lead to a new venture.
“I made it and took it to a Christmas party where everybody loved it,” Byars recalled. “At that moment, I realized I might have something. I decided to start making the game for others.”
Several years and many games later, Byars’ Board Room Game Company continues to produce a variety of wooden board games and pocket dice games.
“These are wooden board games that you would want to have sitting out in your living room, just waiting for someone to play,” he explained. “They are not only fun, but they are really nice to look at.”
The company’s offerings now include seven hand-made wooden board games and a line of dice games.
“Most of the board games are variations of old, ancient games. Some of them were even placed by Roman soldiers. Others have roots that go way back, too,” he explained.
Byars said all of the games are very simple to play, perfect for the whole family. His own children, ages 7 and 13, serve as in-house game testers.
“I make them where they can play and adults will enjoy them, too,” he added. “My kids can play them and they tell me whether they think they are dumb or not.”
Construction of the each of the wooden game boards takes several hours. Most are sold through local retailers, but Byars said he does ship the games as well.
He said the business began “as an accident,” but has grown into an endeavor he enjoys.
“At first, I just liked the challenge of figuring out how to build a game for myself, but also, I’ve always wanted to have a business for myself. This is just that – and something that people could get excited about,” he said.
The games, which run $10-$50, are available online as well as at Muddy Roots Collective, Brews Brothers Taproom and Cold Blooded Coffee all in Murphysboro.
Byars, who works in information technology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said he wants to grow his game business, and has a very specific goal.
“I would love to really see this thing take off and be able to cover every single state as far as the dice games go. I want to see them in as many places as I can and I think it would be really cool to be on vacation somewhere and see a family playing one of my games. That would be really cool,” he said.
For Nick James and his family, Christmas trees are a year-round business
While most of us turn our thinking to Christmas just a few weeks out of the year, Nick James and his family think about Christmas — or at least Christmas trees — all year long.
As the operators of Allen Farm Christmas Trees and Cattle, holiday trees are front-and-center as the family plants, raises and sells hundreds of Christmas trees each year at their farm near Buncombe in Johnson County.
The farm has been in the family for more than 150 years. Their first Christmas trees were planted in 1986 and sales began several years later.
James, the Christmas tree lot manager at the farm, said it takes four to seven years for a Christmas tree to grow to maturity. The family raises Scotch Pine trees, selling 150-200 of the trees each year “out of the field,” James said. The business also sells about the same number of cut fir trees that it brings in each year for the holiday.
“We’re also expanding/experimenting with a new variety called Leyland Cypress, a southern variety of Christmas trees,” James explained. “We’re on the northern edge of the growing region, so as long as we don’t get really harsh winters, they’ll survive.”
James said the Lelyand Cypress trees are more disease-resistant than the pines and they tend to grow faster. He said after a number of years of planting just a few, the family planted 250 on the farm in the spring and intends to plant another 600 next year. Cultivation of both varieties of trees is similar.
“When we plant them, they are two years old and they look just like a twig with a root ball on it. We plan on about a foot of growth each year, so five years after we plant it, we should have about a five-foot tall tree. That’s when some of them are ready, but we do like to get some up to seven or eight feet before we sell them,” he said.
Raising Christmas trees is a year-round endeavor, James said. “I think that surprises a lot of people. There’s a lot of work involved with growing Christmas trees. We fight all kinds of different diseases and things to keep them alive. We battle the deer, too. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Stumps from the previous year’s harvest are treated in February then the planting of new trees occurs in April. Insecticide and fungicide are applied in the spring as well. James said the trees are shaped – or trimmed – to give them the traditional conical form over the summer. Later the trees are sprayed to keep their green color and then the fall months are spent preparing for the annual sale of Christmas trees and wreaths, also created on the farm.
“We start selling the trees at Thanksgiving and usually go just a few weekends after that,” he said.
James said some customers come out to the farm in November to tag a tree as theirs for harvest a few weeks later. Others, who wait until it is time to take a tree home, are able to pick out a pine and cut it down or have a farm employee cut it for them.
In addition to trees, the farm offers handmade wreaths as well as ornaments. They also take orders for grave blankets, table centerpieces and other custom work.
James said his grandmother, who makes many of the wreaths, grew up on the farm and the James family continues to operate it. Personally, he’s been involved with the Christmas tree operation since birth – or even before.
“My mom was pregnant with me when they planted the first Christmas trees back in ’86,” he said.
Today, three generations of the Allen and James family work on the farm.
He said there is a diminishing number of Christmas tree farms in the region because of the workload and because of the multiple-year timeline of raising evergreens.
“Several years ago when the economy went through a downturn, people weren’t buying trees, so farmers weren’t planting trees and now, here we are years later and there are not enough trees to go around,” he said.
Holiday recipes: Six sweet treats featuring peppermint
BY DIXIE TERRY FOR THE SOUTHERN
One word we often link to Christmas is "tradition," that of decorations, music, entertaining, giving, and yes, food.
Traditions are comforting, as we hang onto ages-old ornaments on the Christmas tree, curl up with a vintage gingerbread-decorated throw to watch a Hallmark movie while waiting for an oven full of cranberry loaves to bake, or unpack the holiday mugs that our children once used for hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.
New candy canes are a must each holiday season, even though there is a stash of them, broken and crumbling, in the freezer. Those that I kept from last year, as I have traditionally done for countless years, will be used in a recipe or two.
If, you, too, hoard broken candy canes, maybe you would like to try your hand at turning out one or more of the following peppermint recipes for your holiday gatherings. Of course, new candy canes can be used, if you are not a candy cane hoarder.