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Stacks of plywood in varying shapes and sizes line the hallway and nearly-finished coasters awaiting epoxy are splayed across a table, while Sebastian Correa flips through tobacco leaves nearby looking for the perfect one to attach to a panel.
There is no doubt when touring Artisan Leaf’s current office near Brentwood that each product featuring tobacco leaves is thoughtfully crafted by hand, but the owners are optimistic that the upcoming move downtown will streamline operations and enable them to expand the companies’ offering of unique items.
“We’ve been in business a little over three years now and our sales have increased, but we haven’t exploded,” said Reggie Harrison. “In as much as we can, we want to control our growth, but a lot of it is contingent on the new building. If we were to explode now, I don’t think we’d be able to handle it in our current location.”
The move downtown has been a long time coming. In fact, the owners toured a variety of spaces in early 2016, then purchased 113 and 115 Tarboro St. more than a year ago. There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work that went largely unnoticed by the community, but the recent removal of the front facades and work on the adjacent alley spurred talk around Wilson.
Harrison said crews have been hard at work making structural changes, and as soon as the adjustments are made, the interior work can be done, allowing them to open for business in the renovated structure within the next couple of months. Once complete, the front of 113 Tarboro will serve as a showroom while the back of both properties will serve as the manufacturing space. The front of the former hair salon at 115 Tarboro will be transformed into a lease space for a coffee shop, small cafe, wine bar or other commercial shop.
“We want to produce our Artisan Leaf items, and we could have done just that without the showroom, but then it would be just another building in downtown that looks closed,” Harrison said. “Not only are we are committed to Wilson and what is going on in downtown, but we’re excited to be a part of it.
“Wilson traditionally is known for tobacco, barbecue, antiques and now whirligigs. Barbecue is close and the rest are in downtown, so we feel our presence is another way to tie Wilson’s history together.”
Since beginning operations in 2014, Artisan Leaf has perfected its processes and developed new products.
“Trial and error has helped us evolve,” said George Newsome. “We’re the first ones to do this, so we make mistakes and we receive a lot of feedback from our customers, which has helped us to come up with new products and diversify our inventory.”
When they started, the tobacco leaves used in their products were largely imported from overseas, but Artisan Leaf has built relationships with farmers closer to home to source yellow or orange flue-cured tobacco leaves, medium brown air-cured burley tobacco and chocolate brown fire-cured cigar leaf tobacco.
“We had to get a closer relationship with the farmers, so when they open the curing barn, Sebastian is there,” Newsome said. “He is there to pick out the best leaves and avoid the damage that happens as it goes from the barn to the bale.”
Many of Artisan Leaf’s tables, bars and wall panels are custom ordered, but for customers looking for smaller items or gifts, such as Christmas tree decorations, products can be purchased locally at The Nook and Gracie’s as well as a shop in Smithfield and two stores in Danville, Virginia.
“Around here, people often have a tie to — either direct or indirect — and an understanding of tobacco,” Harrison said. “The farther from North Carolina and the Southeast we reach, the less understanding there is, though.”
In fact, the first High Point furniture market Artisan Leaf was a part of generated an inquiry from a designer about what type of tree grew such large leaves. They have since improved their marketing and developed products for various companies, but Harrison said what he really sees on the horizon for Artisan Leaf is a partnership with a furniture maker that incorporates a tobacco-leaf door into a cabinet or a tobacco sunburst into a table.
“The production space and showroom for Artisan Leaf is a component to the overall revitalization of downtown,” Harrison said. “Every little bit helps and the more activity down there, the more people downtown, the better it is for everyone.”
For more information on Artisan Leaf, visit www.artisanleaf.com/.