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Local business of the week: The Glass Bakery

Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Cara Wedgbrow who runs The Glass Bakery out of Mill Cove, N.S.

What is The Glass Bakery?

It’s a garden-based giftshop that I started in 2010 in Mill Cove, N.S. I’m an artisan and I create kiln-fired bird ornaments out of glass. The glass ornaments and décor are inspired by my passion and excitement for wildlife and nature.

Photo courtesy of Cara Wedgbrow

How did the business get started?

Initially, my background wasn’t in art. I was actually doing weather forecasting. I have a Ph.D. in meteorology and climatology, and I was following that route for a while, but then I wanted a change in career. Basically, I wanted to stay at home with my elderly dog (a Belgian shepherd named Hudson) because he needed me. So, I was inspired to start a home business because of him.

I decided to start playing around with glass, making anything I could. I was making dishes, posters, pictures, and jewelry. I did shows and farmers’ markets and that kind of thing for about five years, and then Hudson died. If you’re a dog person, that’s pretty earth shattering. It changed everything. I started trying to reconnect with nature. Ultimately, it led me to watch birds in the garden where I live. I then had this idea that I would start to make glass birds.

So, I always say that my dog, Hudson, he inspired me to create these little glass birds and was the inspiration for me starting a business.

The Glass Bakery
Photo courtesy of Cara Wedgbrow

What inspired the name?

It’s because I’m making kiln-baked glass in an electric kiln, so that’s the bakery element. It makes sense when you see my business card next to one of my glass pieces, but I’ve had some interesting conversations with tourists in non-pandemic years. I’ve had a few of them drive up to my studio really hoping to buy some bread or a nice cake or something. Hopefully they’re not too disappointed. In the end, they usually come in and they see a bird and they’re happy again.

What’s your most popular product?

That’s a tricky one. Originally I only made to order because it was difficult to guess what type of bird people wanted. I think I have something like 20 types of glass birds now, so it’s a bit of a gamble to make more of one than another. There are always the top favourites, like the cardinal, blue jay, and chickadees. And my perching birds. People like them on the balcony. They’re usually a bestseller.

But I did notice that since the pandemic, there’s been a slight shift because I used to get a lot of tourists buying shorebirds, the sandpipers and the plovers, because they were coming to the coast and seeing those birds. But this last year, I’ve had more local Canadian sales, so more familiar birds that people would see in their back garden.

The Glass Bakery
Photo courtesy of Cara Wedgbrow

How do you create the glass birds?

It’s all hand cut, so I score the glass, and then I cut it, a bit like a stained-glass artist would, and I grind off the sharp edges. Then I apply this very finely crushed coloured glass. It’s about the texture of sand. I place that in layers to build up the colour, and, if I’m making a perch, I’ll put little wire legs in. Then I’ll put another layer of glass on the top and some more colour.

It all gets fired in the kiln for probably around 16 hours because you have to take it really slow or the glass will crack. And then I have to anneal it because it needs to cool really slowly. But it makes the glass fairly strong and robust so that tourists can carry it with them.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

I do have a studio shop, but my business model was mainly wholesale. I sold to gift shops primarily in tourist areas and cottage country. But since COVID, I’ve really pushed to online because once COVID happened, I lost 50 per cent of my customer base almost overnight. The gift shops were shutting down or they didn’t know when they were going to open. Even the manufacturers of glass, they weren’t allowed to use liquid oxygen to make the glass because it was used for medical equipment. So, I had to make use of the raw materials I had.

The Glass Bakery
Photo courtesy of Cara Wedgbrow

What does the future look like for The Glass Bakery?

I’m putting more effort into building a user-friendly website. I’d like to continue to build my online presence and have that alongside wholesale. The direct-to-consumer sales also allow me to build up the non-profit side of my business and give back to dog charities. While I create birds, dogs are a big part of what inspired the business. So, I have some online collections to raise funds for various dog charities.

In terms of environmental friendliness, I’m always looking at packaging and just generally trying to create as small a footprint as I can for the business.

The pandemic taught me you can only plan so far and then you just have to wing the rest.

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