It’s a family affair at the Coronado AR Workshop, project studio and boutique, which was opened just six months ago, by Laura and Chris Nelson. I had heard the buzz about the chunky blanket class and decided to check it out with my friend Carolyn. It was an engaging way to spend just under three hours and come out with a cute blanket that I plan to snuggle up in when the fall weather finally arrives. Our teacher Emily demonstrated how to start and then was willing to help as much or little as we needed through the evening. With no knitting experience required, this class was surprisingly easy. Participants are allowed to bring snacks and drinks to enjoy. We met some interesting people, discovered this was their most popular class, and then got a sneak peek of the new colorful chunky pumpkins and other things to come.
Their talented team of eight includes Laura’s retired mom Kathy and dad Fred. Used to getting up early, Fred, a military veteran, comes in between 3 am and 5 am to sand and cut wood, to get things ready before the surrounding businesses open. Chris, who was a house painter for 30 years, is handy and built all the tables and shelves in the space. He is also in charge of getting all the wood, which is harder to find and more expensive since the pandemic. Chris’ favorite part of the business has been learning to embrace his creativity by building furniture and tackling other projects. His daughters, Lily, Ella, and Autumn, teach classes, along with two part time employees from the previous location, which closed during the pandemic.
Laura and Chris enjoyed taking classes at the AR Workshop Hillcrest studio, and when they learned it closed, they reached out to the corporate office to see about opening one in Coronado. AR Workshops was founded by two friends who started with an Etsy shop and opened their first store in Charlotte six years ago, and now have 150 franchises. If you are wondering what the AR stands for, it’s the initials of the founders last names, Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff. “It’s nice because they are in it with us, since they still run the flagship Charlotte store,” comments Laura.
Most of the projects are suggested by corporate, but Laura also has the autonomy to customize items. She has been particularly focused on creating locally inspired products. Pieces can be made in class, or you can have the staff create an item for you. They are involved with a variety of events, including Beer by the Bay and the Navy SEAL Make a Wish program. “We want to help people build memories that reflect the community,” Laura says.
In the front retail section, a plethora of ready-to-purchase items are available, many beach themed, and some fun ones like, “I don’t want to go OTB” (Over the Bridge) and “Summers in Coronado and Winters in Arizona.” She has found that NADO items are especially popular for parents sending their kids off to college. She plans to continue building her Coronado themed projects.
“We are constantly changing and adding new classes and retail items, so residents have a reason to stop by frequently. We feature a variety of unique items for hostess gifts, birthdays, just because, like jewelry, signs, cards, bags, hot coffee and cocoa trays, all at affordable pricing.
“We test everything before we offer it in a class,” she notes, and says that they designed a few of the new customizable doormats and have been walking on them to see how they hold up. “We want these items to last for years to come.” Summer camps were especially popular, and new for fall are the after school programs. One of which is designed for teens to create a mood board for their room and then make personalized decorative items. “It’s fun to see our guests get creative. Sometimes people say, ‘I could do that at home’, but we make it easy with setting up, having the needed supplies, and cleaning up, all in a social environment. Many people bring family or friends to class, so it’s a time when you can put your phone away and talk, as well as go home with a project you are proud of,” highlights Laura.
A favorite aspect of the business that she didn’t anticipate are the generational classes. For example, a grandmother brought in her three daughters-in-law and grandchildren to make projects together. A 90-year-old grandma signed up for a class with her seven-year-old great granddaughter. Laura expresses, “It’s touching, and they will have these memories forever.” They are also starting to work with Navy spouses and other groups, and are looking to host team building parties, girls’ night out, birthday parties, as well as off-site events.
Laura has partnered up with Sunbaked cookies to offer a creative cookie decorating class, and a macramé class is coming soon. She is hoping to continue to collaborate with other local artists as well. Look for Santa to stop by at the Cookies with Santa event, where you can snap jolly photos and make ornaments. Christmas ornaments are made of round wooden disks and can be customized to your style or for gifts.
They also offer DIY to-go kits for trays, blankets, etc. that come with an instructional video to do in the comfort of your home or give as gifts. Their stencil-based projects allow you to get creative with colors, blending, backgrounds, and designs.
With all the inviting porches in Coronado, the new porch accessory class is perfect for locals. Guests can choose to design a porch sign and a customize a doormat or planter box. Cost varies by size, with classes averaging about $75. They also have plans for a wooden dog bed class. I’m already looking forward to taking another class.
This will be their first holiday season, since they opened in April, but they are told to expect it will be busy. So far, Laura says it has been positive, with a slower start than anticipated. She discovered that initially people didn’t understand what kind of business they were, but once they experienced it, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
If you need a custom project but don’t want to make it, you can request they do it for you, with turnaround times as quick as same day for small items and 48 hours for larger projects. “Think of us as a creative resource,” reveals Laura.