In the beginning of April, Grapeleaf Graphics, a custom apparel and gifts shop, opened a new location after owners Jeff and Karen Lucia spent the last few years working out of their home in Napa Valley, California. In the midst of wine country, this couple found their own way to cater to the community and has plans to grow into the new space.
One step into the shop, and you’re immediately greeted with bright colors, fun animal art on the walls, and an assortment of custom gifts and apparel. “We’re in this amazing location right off of the main street,” Karen explains. “I want people to walk in and know that we are graphics people.”
The shop provides the Napa Valley community and its visitors with an array of custom embroidery, screen printing, direct-to-garment, and other services. Grapeleaf Graphics operates with two DTG printers and a sandcarving machine, along with other various equipment, and plans to invest in a laser engraver to produce even more of a variety.
Jeff and Karen have run the business together for the past 13 years, ever since they started working out the house as a side occupation in 2006. Back then, Karen was a vice president at a bank, while Jeff was in trades with large-format printing, which is when he first became familiar with that equipment. “Our goal was for me to just continue to do what I was doing and then eventually we would start our own company,” explains Karen. When the economy took a hit in 2007, they both lost their jobs, but took that opportunity to work on Grapeleaf Graphics full-time. “It was a sink-or-swim situation where we learned quickly what to do,” says Karen.
Before moving into the current space, and in between years of working from home, the shop used to be located on Jefferson Street in Napa Valley. According to Karen, every year the shop was growing 30% and eventually outgrew that space. When that happened, it moved to California Boulevard, which had twice the space.
Unfortunately, the business suffered a setback after that. Due to a loss of one of its biggest clients, the couple had to move Grapeleaf back home to determine which direction to go, while still keeping up with orders. Over time, it grew more and more difficult to work from home with boxes everywhere and a lack of work-home separation. “This year we took the plunge again and decided we weren't ready to retire,” Karen remarks.
Jeff and Karen have a goal to eventually slow down and let their son, Adam, take over. Adam, who’s worked in the restaurant and wine industry for the last 12 years, recently left that world to come work for Grapeleaf Graphics.
For now, the couple is excited to come to work every day. “When you have your own business, when you get up in the morning, you have to decide if you want to make money or not,” states Karen. “Business doesn’t always just walk in the door — we have to pretty much reinvent ourselves again.”
In the past, the shop offered more than needed, according to Karen, but now, it specializes in certain things. The shop’s niche is mom-and-pop shops and smaller businesses, but it takes on larger jobs from time to time as well. Although Grapeleaf Graphics does a lot of apparel, the main focus is branding for clients. It also sells etched awards and wine glasses. “We live in Napa Valley, so everything is related to wine,” says Karen. “We do a lot of wine glasses and things like that for the wineries and different wine bars.”
The shop also involves itself with the community in other ways. A friend of Karen’s runs a Segway company, which started to incorporate Grapeleaf on the route of its tour. Visitors from the tour may receive either a takeaway gift or a special discount, so they can come back at another point during their time in Napa. With this, and the wake of summertime in Napa Valley, the Lucia family couldn’t be more excited about this new venture.
An opening party for the new space is still in the works. Karen plans to invite friends from the chamber of commerce and other folks from the city to demonstrate the shop’s machinery and equipment.