Mark James, a self-proclaimed logger and owner of Bear Creek Timber, removed a downed red cedar tree two blocks away from Boca Ciega High School after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
James spent the last three years drying the uniquely patterned wood and creating beauty out of destruction. He says it takes a minimum of one year to dry out the wood of a tree per each inch of thickness.
James, who learned woodworking from four years of wood shop at BCHS, turned a hobby into a business after his company – where he worked as an environmental and safety officer for 27 years – outsourced to Asia.
Then the pandemic happened, shutting down local crafter markets and James’ primary source of income; he was no longer able to sell many of his creations.
Enter LocalShops1 and their response to the pandemic.
Launched in 2008, LocalShops1 bills itself as “Tampa Bay’s source for all things local” with a mission “to provide advocacy, support and education to locally owned, independent businesses throughout the region.”
Founder, owner and operator of LocalShops1, Ester Venouziou, closed the doors to her small brick-and-mortar shop in March, and in April uploaded her business to a complete online presence.
Venouziou launched Marketplace on her website, localshops1.com, allowing local vendors, makers and crafters to post and sell their goods online, without fees, thanks to sponsorships.
On LocalShops1 Marketplace, James had an outlet to promote his craft.
“In the absence of the LocalShops1 Marketplace, I would have had no sales,” James said.
In appreciation, James decided he wanted to help others this holiday season.
“I noticed a lot of people were in need,” said James. “I’m not making a lot of money compared to last year, but I thought, ‘What if I put this table up for auction and donate the proceeds to a charity?’”
On December 18, James and Venouziou announced on Facebook that the table James had crafted from the tree downed by Irma was up for auction and 100% of the proceeds would be donated to an organization of the winner’s choosing.
Local business owner and humanitarian John Riesebeck of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ won the auction.
“I wanted to help a local artist, so I bid. When I found out I could pick the nonprofit the money would be donated to, it made it all the better,” Riesebeck said.
Riesebeck, no stranger to acts of charity himself, presented a check to Jax Taylor on Monday, December 28 for Jax In and Out Neighborhood Cafe’s food pantry.
“Since everything Jax does and stands for is right in line with my goals – helping others when you can – it was an easy decision as to where the money should go,” Riesebeck said.