Bernard Katz has come a long way since opening his Sharp Street glass studio 15 years ago. That's before the Internet took off and changed the way decorative glass is sold. That's before his daughter was born. That's even before he met his wife and business partner, Katie.
Back then, Bernard slowly started to sell his own work to make car payments. He partnered up with another artist and fell into the studio by happenstance, he said.
"We walked in here and thought, 'Wow, this is about as perfect as can be.' We built everything from scratch, and felt like we're going to stay here for a while," he said.
Now, sells sculptures worldwide from a 6,500-square-foot glass blowing studio, warehouse, and gallery at 3739 Sharp St.
One of Bernard's trademarks is tree limbs, which look frozen in time inside his sculptures. He said he was drawn to the naturalistic element of high branches, and its dominated his work ever since.
Bernard's unique artist talents, Katie's devotion to the business, and later the duo's adaptability during an economic recession allowed Bernard Katz Glass to celebrate its 15-year anniversary this spring.
Mom Joins Pop
An artist herself, Katie was won over by his talents when he first took her into his studio.
"It's one thing to say you are an artist, but to actually make a living doing it and still have artistic quality—that's something else," she said.
After they got married, Katie just slowly became more and more involved in the business.
"I was wearing every hat, and it took a toll," Bernard said, describing long phone calls, cumbersome relationship management with customers and galleries, and packaging material—on top of actually producing the work. Bernard said Katie is now the go-to person for all business needs.
The two settled into the Wissahickon area, and now have a young daughter who attends .
The Poor Economy
During Bernard's time as a business owner, this recent economic downturn has been the worst.
"Galleries aren't doing as well. We used to sell to mom-and-pop, Main Street Americana galleries, but they're not buying. It's never been as bad and as long as it is now."
The Katzes have adapted by targeting their work. With Bernard as the primary (and often only) glassblower, the studio had to figure out what areas makes sense to devote their time and resources to.
"We can't be everything to all people. Smaller places aren't buying, maybe we increase our high-end, luxury sculptures," Katie said.
Most recently, the Four Seasons in Philadelphia purchased work from Bernard Katz Glass to display at the Fountain Restaurant.
Social Media and Community Relationships
Bernard has also increased what he shares with the outside world. On the studio's Facebook page and website, Bernard blogs and shares pictures about the process and connects on individual pieces he's working on.
"We're doing a lot more on the behind-the-scenes of the work... People want to have a connection with what I am making for them. With videos, pictures, and blogging, there's more of that story," he said.
The Katzes talk about that "experience" someone gets with a hand-crafted object. There's a relationship between the artist and the patron. They encourage anyone to come by their shop to really get that connection when purchasing an item.
"When someone comes in here, visits us, we can really talk about a piece. Everything has a story," he said.
Although foot traffic to the off-the-beaten path Sharp Street has never been great, Bernard said the neighborhood has always embraced him. True, he produces decorative, luxury work, but Bernard also has created functional—and cheaper—household items, like glasses, decanters, paperweights, and bowls.
"They know that this is a place for a one-of-a-kind art that is an unusual, hand-made right here. I have people that do all of their Christmas shopping here," he said.
The shop is open Monday through Saturday.
Earlier this spring, a developer approached the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association , which faces Terrace and Sharp Street, and turning it into homes or condos. If that happens, the Katzes would have to move out.
In May, the civic association said no one updated them as to any property sale or building plan—zoning approval is needed for the townhouses, not the condos.
Bernard Katz Glass didn't go into specifics about the shop's facility future, but Katie said the news spurred her into some spring cleaning.
"One good thing is that I've uncovered some hidden treasures—a lot of sculptures that we previously thought were discontinued. So, I'm getting better organized if anything else," she said.
Whatever their future, Bernard said he'll take it day-by-day.
"If you asked me in the 90s if I'd be here in 15 years, I'd say, 'I don't even know about this year.'" he said, adding that having a career where he calls the shots is more than he can ask.
Visit the shop's website for more information.