Friday, May 1, 2009

Grateful In The Heights

I have probably driven past it 1000 times. I’ve often wondered what was behind the front door of the tidy brick building on Yale, the one I pass on my way to 19th Street. I always assumed it was some kind of photography studio… I wish I could say that I had took the initiative to find the truth on my own, but it was through the happy coincidence of knowing another mom, Sheri Sakson, that I was able to find out more about gratefulimages .

Their story goes like this:

Emily Beynon has always been an artist, but she was not always a businesswoman. Her art was about healing and faith, not profit. The story of gratefulimages is very much about how the world just has a way of making things happen. Prior to 2002, Emily was a mom of 2 grown daughters who was painting for her own reasons- self expression and sheer joy of doing so. She wanted to create something that brought joy or peace or God or comfort to others. After years of painting, Emily really wanted to make her paintings and their message accessible to more people. Luckily, her daughter Megan was working as a web designer, and Emily knew the web was her answer.

Megan built a site for Emily around 1998- not a retail site, just a way to share the art and allow others find a message in the images. As fate would have it, one fan of the site was a family friend who owned a printing company. The friend thought Emily’s images would be perfect for cards to use as a fundraiser for her church youth group. Of course, Emily was happy to help! As soon as other friends saw the samples, gratefulimages was technically born.

Note cards, primarily blank for your own message, were how it all got started and are still the cornerstone of the business.

Next thing you know, Megan quit her job to help launch the business. She ended up moving home. After all, “you have to sell a lot of cards to make a living.” Emily and her husband put their furniture in storage, and their home became dedicated to the growing business. Finally, the house could no longer accommodate the demand and thus starts their journey to The Heights.
Megan had been living in the Montrose before she moved back home to become her mom’s Creative Director. Being a strong art community, it was the first place they considered for gratefulimages’ new home. However, as a Christian company, there was concern that they wouldn’t be as accepted as they would like.

Megan’s father had always been fascinated by The Heights- its history and sense of community. I thought it was such a testimony to the neighborhood that, although The Heights isn’t what most would consider a “Christian” stronghold, the family saw an acceptance of all kinds of people here. This feeling that everyone is welcome, coupled with a strong community of artists, made The Heights perfect for them.

One day on a routine trip to their digital imaging group, located in The Heights, Megan had to run in to a then-Compass Bank. The former Heights Savings and Loan was only a temporary shelter while Compass was renovating a new building. As Megan did her banking, Emily realized the building would eventually be vacant. This was it, she thought- the space that would be their studio and store front. They purchased the building from Compass and gutted it. In true Heights fashion, they repurposed a lot of materials from the building. Old doors and banking furniture got new life and a bit of history was saved for the rest of us. Gratefulimages moved in and officially became a Heights small business in February 2006. They kicked off life in The Heights right, with a Valentine’s Day party which has become an annual event (you’ll find it listed on Heights Happenings next February, I’m sure).

Emily paints in the well lit northeast corner of the building, facing Yale

Sheri hard at work! Megan says you can take this scene and scale it down to household size and you get a picture of what Emily's living room looked like in the starting phases of the company!

I think “business” is probably different when you are a company with a heartfelt mission. It was nothing that Megan said explicitly, but I almost get the feeling that gratefulimages is successful in spite of itself. Emily didn’t set out for profit when she asked Megan to create that website. She feels that people are connected to God through her paintings and, as a Christian, wanted to share that. I think that when you put your heart in the right place (and this doesn’t have to be rooted in religious faith, either, since goodness comes in many forms, from many places) good things will happen. When you don’t have a singular focus on the bottom line, you can accept whatever result. They started by letting someone else use art for a fundraiser and now they are hugely successful, with a new licensing agreement and more exposure than they ever anticipated.

Fruits of her labor: The Sure Grace Collection will be available in gift shops all over the place! Way to put a Heights business on the map, guys! If you want to buy locally, fabulous Bliss on 19th will be carrying some of the ceramics.

gratefulimages also sells onsies for the wee ones and keeps photos they've been sent on the fridge

One of the most recent ways Emily, Megan and Julia (Julia is Emily’s other daughter. She also works for the company, but from her home in Boulder, CO, as a photographer and the current web designer) have decided to let their hearts rule their business is the Create Hope Challenge. By accepting this challenge, you get 4 notecards to send to anyone you want, just to help spread the hope that gratefulimages sees in the world. After all, Megan says, “How nice is it to get a real note in the mail, between all the junk and bills?” Sure, the Challenge gets more exposure for the company but it mostly goes back to Emily’s initial desire- get the images out there so people can find a message, be it of Faith or hope or just general happiness. Their goal is to get 500 senders, a total of 2000 cards, out to all 50 states. They are about 1/2 way there, so head to the website and participate!

So, has the family been as welcome in The Heights as they hoped? Certainly! From selling their cards at Bliss on 19th to using Heights Glass for their framing to brainstorming creative ideas with Teresa at Hello, Lucky, the neighborhood and other Heights businesses are a real community. In fact, Megan felt so welcome here as a business owner, she and her husband are happy to call The Heights home. She loves the funkiness and embraces the diversity. She also makes a point to find what she needs in The Heights and support local businesses. Why? There is a feeling you get, she says, when you shop in locally owned stores. “You go in to buy something and you talk to the owner.” Small businesses in The Heights “want to help each other succeed.” It’s nice, isn’t it?

Just another day at the office: Megan and Ranger

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