Leah Shelhorn, the owner of craft-oriented gift store Studio 41 for 27 years, is about to embark on a second chapter in her life as she retires. She said the store would be retiring with her, as the shop is holding a 41 percent off sale through its final week.
“I feel it’s my time to go,” she said. “I want to do other things. I want to help some nonprofits that I haven’t been able to help, and I want to enjoy my years with my husband.”
Shelhorn opened Studio 41 after her 41st birthday in 1990. It initially operated out of the Old Army Mess Hall on Grant Street before moving in 1993 to the corner of First and H streets, where a State Farm office is presently located. On Jan. 2, 1997, Shelhorn and her husband bought the building at 700 First St., next to the Majestic Theatre, where it has remained for the last 21 years.
In its time, Studio 41 has provided Benicians with a place to buy crafts, jewelry, original art and unique gift items, all handmade in America. However, the store has also attracted people from outside the area who have purchased items while strolling through Benicia’s downtown. It has drawn rave reviews from publications like Diablo Magazine and Sunset Magazine, the latter which dubbed Studio 41 “one of the best reasons of living in the west.”
Shelhorn said her goal has always been “to bring the finest art and craft to Benicia,” and she was nominated as a top gallery in the United States for 10 years in a row, which was voted on by 2,500 artisans throughout the nation. In 2006, Studio 41 was named by Niche Magazine as one of the top retailers in the country.
One of Shelhorn’s favorite things about running Studio 41 has been getting to know the customers, some of whom have been patronizing the store since the beginning.
“The customers I had in 1990, I still have,” she said. “Now I’ve been waiting on their sons and daughters, and they have children of their own. That’s been a joy to see.”
Shelhorn said the shop has been very good about adapting to the changing tastes of customers, including through the decision to start selling gourmet foods and gift baskets. Foodies can buy pastas, sauces, oils, chocolates and more edible items from culinary kitchens throughout the country, sometimes prepared in gift baskets. Whether selling gift items for holidays, graduations, weddings or baby showers, Shelhorn said she was always appreciative of customers who came back in and said, “That gift was such a hit. You made my day.”
“It’s a circle,” Shelhorn said, “and the circle’s complete when that happens.”
Throughout it all, Shelhorn has been an active community participant. She was the founding chair of the Downtown Benicia Alliance and served on the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors for six years, the Economic Development Board for six years and the Benicia Main Street board for one year. In her retirement, Shelhorn wants to continue to help nonprofits and spend some time with her husband traveling, drinking wine and possibly learning how to cook.
“Most of my customers know I don’t cook,” she said. “I open jars, and the jars are the ones that they could find here at Studio 41. I’ve never had time (to cook), so I feel it’s time for me to learn how to cook for my husband and friends.”
Studio 41 will be holding a “good buy/bye” sale through Monday, Jan. 15 where nearly everything in the store is available for 41 percent off. All sales are final, and no exchanges or returns will be allowed. Shelhorn said the store would continue its food drive for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. People are encouraged to bring in cans or plastic containers, as glass will not be accepted.
“If they don’t want to bring a can or plastic container, they can offer a donation of $2 or more and the money goes to the Food Bank as well and they get the 41 percent off,” she said.
Studio 41’s hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call the store at 745-0254.