We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessi Gerak and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessi, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I graduated with my BFA in Ceramics in late 2009 and immediately became pregnant with the first of my two kids. My focus quickly shifted from creating art to providing a stable home for my kids and I had tricked myself into believing an artist can’t provide that. For the next 10 years, I didn’t create anything – I just worked a “normal” job and took care of my family. In 2015 I suffered a severe case of burn-out after trying to balance taking care of two tiny humans and working in a toxic work environment without any outside support. Fast forward to 2020 – at that time I was working as a consultant in 401k compliance when the pandemic hit, forcing me to be home 24/7. My kids were 7 and 9 and needed me much less than when I originally walked away from ceramics. My husband and I saw an opportunity for me to jump back in – he knew I was still rebuilding after burning out so hard and took it upon himself to build the space I needed to be an artist again. He built a studio shed in our backyard, became an expert on kiln maintenance and repair, and learned all the local places I could get supplies. With his cheerleading and the support of college friends I jumped back in and re-opened my Etsy shop – within a year the income from ceramics replaced consulting income and I was able to quit consulting to focus on my business and be present for my children.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started ceramics in college, and I joined the program at a magical time, in my opinion. The crew of undergrad and graduate students became my family and my community. I was inspired by them daily and often had a hard time going home because I wanted to spend all my time in the studio creating with my favorite people.
The biggest challenge starting a business was silencing outside voices and in my own head that said I could not support my family as an artist. If you balance creating with the necessary aspects of running the business (customer service, inventory, packing/shipping, marketing), it is possible. Don’t be afraid to lean on other artists to get into the groove. In my experience, most artists, no matter the medium, are not competitive – they want to see the community prosper. The biggest blessing in this entire experience is the camaraderie among craft show creators/sellers and other local business owners. It really is the best community there is.
The thing I want people to know about my story is – art and community can help you rebuild after suffering a devastating loss or setback. I’m rebuilding after severely burning out, which is incredibly common among working moms and not talked about enough. I want other working moms to know it’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s important to recognize when you are in a situation you need to leave – that it’s riskier to stay in an unhealthy situation. I was terrified to leave the toxic work environment because I was afraid I would not be able to provide the stable home, income, and health insurance we so desperately needed – however, I knew if I stayed they would not have the mother they needed because I was disappearing into my fear and grief.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love Baker – there is a plant store called Rosehouse Botanicals (14 S Broadway) that was originally started by my dear friend Lynn, and it is a magical place. The folx that run it work hard to create an inclusive and warm atmosphere. There is also a new shop opening a couple of doors down (14 S Broadway) called Fern and Skye that will be showcasing local artists – me included! You also can’t visit Denver without visiting Mutiny Information Cafe/Bookstore (2 S Broadway)! This chunk of streets (1st and Broadway-ish) is great to walk during the day or night and is full of stores geared toward art, music, and food.
For drink there is a cider chain called Locust Cider that was started by my old boss who ran a music venue in Colorado Springs in the early 2000s. They have a location in Belmar and It’s delicious. They have video games to entertain the kids while the parent/guardian are hanging out.
For food, you must eat at Welton Street Cafe in five points (2258 California St). They’ve been in Denver for nearly 40 years through such drastic changes and have delicious food. I’ve always wondered if Kerouac visited during his legendary trip to Denver – he had to have. They are open Thursday – Sunday.
I’m heartbroken over the loss of Breakfast King and Denver Diner. I’ve had the weirdest and best conversations at both places over the years. They also had the best food at 2 am when inebriated.
Lastly, you can’t visit Denver without eating at other Denver staples: Pete’s Diner, St. Marks Coffee Shop, City O City (vegan!), Watercourse (also vegan!), Sputnik, and High Dive.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband, Tim; my kids, Ike and Eli; and my friends Sarah, Becky, and Laura.
Raj Chaudhari runs a series of craft shows/fairs called Firsthand Markets (https://www.firsthand.us/). Raj works very very hard at building a community of artists and showcases them through fun and inviting craft shows in The Orchard in Westminster. I first joined because he built a reputation for running smooth, well-marketed, well-organized, kid-friendly, inclusive, and super fun events. The more I participate as a vendor, the more I learn about him and his family – they are very intentional about building a warm, safe, and inviting atmosphere.
Other: tiktok – buttonsbones Etsy – Buttonsbones.Etsy.com