Beth Workman thought she’d have a teaching career but — as often happens in life — the path to the expected destination hit a detour.
Workman earned a social science degree at St. Cloud State University. She imagined herself standing in front of a history or social science class. She was a student teaching stint away from the career she’d been planning but teaching jobs were hard to find. As Robert Frost’s poem about that yellow wood noted, there would be another path to choose.
“It’s kind of funny how you end up from where you start,” Workman said.
Workman is now managing another twist in the road. After being laid-off from a long-term job she enjoyed, Workman recently opened her own store on Front Street in downtown Brainerd.
“It’s been terrifying and exciting at the same time,” she said.
Workman’s tenure in downtown Brainerd began on a whim. She answered an ad for a job at the Elf Shelf on a Laurel Street corner in 1993. She was new to the community, arriving here after her husband landed a job. She didn’t have experience but the Elf Shelf owners took a chance on her. The job ended about a year later when the Elf Shelf closed, but Workman discovered she had a eye and a skill for framing.
She started working at Downtown Art and Frame where she spent more than 18 years helping people capture moments in time. Then last year, Workman’s steady job ended as Downtown Art and Frame closed as its owners moved to North Dakota.
“It seemed like a natural progression to go out on my own,” she said, standing in her well-lit shop with the view of the historic water tower out the plate glass windows. She wanted to stay downtown and found a building with character. Pressed tin ceilings are high overhead. Wooden floors creak underfoot. Walls covered with frames, basic black, bright colors, ornate carvings.
“I just love this building,” Workman said.
Her exterior Picture Perfect sign by Joshua Johnson of Upland Advertising and Design was already catching the eye of passers-by. Workman said the early response since she opened in February was a welcome surprise.
Workman replaces glass, does custom framing and anything framing related, including supplies. She’s worked on small items to prints 48-inches long. The store has frames on a variety of prices from ready made frames to decorative wood made in Italy and the U.S. With a wide selection, Workman said she’s competitive with big box stores.
“There are options for every single budget here,” she said. “That was really important to me going in. You don’t want to turn someone away because they only have a certain dollar amount to spend. I have a larger selection than your average frame shop.”
She specializes in framing for memorabilia, needlework and shadow boxes utilizing an eye for color and design. Being able to work on harder-to-frame projects and her knowledge and experience are things that set her apart from other shops, Workman said.
“I do pride myself in helping people choose, not telling them what they have to have on their picture,” she said.
Kelli Sanguma and her 9-month-old daughter Zendaya saw the sign and stopped in looking for a yellow frame. Sanguma said she was glad to see Brainerd still had a frame store.
“I so enjoy working one-on-one with people to pick something that really highlights or makes their piece special,” Workman said. “People really entrust you with things that are very important to them. You have degrees that people have worked hard for. You have birth certificates. You have photos from 100 years ago that are irreplaceable. They are coming to you with that trust to find something to finish it off and display it in their homes so they can enjoy it everyday instead of having it tucked in a drawer somewhere.”
Workman said people come in with projects, like wedding photos, that will be up on their walls for a lifetime. “I really like that, being able to preserve someone’s memories.”
A number of other downtown business owners have helped with sage advice and supportive words. The sense of community downtown was one of the reasons Workman wanted to stay there.
“People are so kind when you let them be,” she said.
Workman went to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the free assistance in getting her business started. The SBDC helped her to have realistic expectations for business income. They also helped push her to quickly promote herself through social media and a website in addition to radio and print marketing. With their help, she said what seemed an overwhelming to-do list became a step-by-step plan. She never thought she wanted to be her own boss. Now she’s enjoying picking out interesting frames, with music notes or designs of sharks’ teeth or patriotic themes and having the final say for the business.
Looking around her store on a sunny afternoon, Workman said: “I think this was a wise choice. I’m really looking forward to being here when I retire.”