PLYMOUTH – Thatcher Smith went against the grain by opening Plymouth Live Edge in the midst of the pandemic.
“This is not at all what I expected to do,” he said.
Before COVID turned everyone’s lives upside down, Smith worked in restaurant equipment sales. As with the entire service sector, its work has been hit hard by shutdowns and restrictions.
His interest in working with live edge slabs, pieces of wood that still have the natural edges of the wood instead of being cut to size and stripped of the bark, came about through a bit of family history and his desire to create his own seating pieces and table in his previous life.
His uncle owned a mill in Maine, and Thatch collected some live plates from his father’s property after he passed away.
“It was purely a hobby, a bit of a side thing,” he said.
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What started as selling some parts through Facebook Marketplace, which is still a major source of new business as well as word of mouth and repeat customers, soon presented itself as a full-fledged business opportunity,
It was a move that came as a surprise to his wife, Jen, a physical education teacher at Nathaniel Morton Elementary School in Plymouth.
“Are you going to sell wood?” he remembers her asking in a tone mixed with surprise and perhaps just a touch of skepticism.
Now Smith is happy to report that Jen has her own share of woodworking projects under her belt sander.
“She really got into it,” he said. “Everybody gets it now,” including his two children, Lincoln and Grady.
His parents chose his remarkable first name from a book whose title he can’t remember. He appreciates being given an interesting name to balance out his common surname. The couple chose their children’s names with this in mind.
The business became truly real when he set up shop at 34 Alden St. in Plymouth at the corner of Standish Avenue, the former site of Piece of Cake Bakery, which is moving to 144 Westerly Road.
In addition to securing the business location, the couple further committed to the venture by moving into their new home on Standish just under a year ago. The house is only seven doors down from the shop itself.
Saying he’s usually open “by appointment or by chance,” Smith has a small sign (a wooden sign, of course) near the entrance to his shop that customers can call or text and he’ll be there.
While he sees the potential for a new and unusual career change, Smith said he’s not quite sure exactly who will be attracted to the idea.
“I didn’t know what the customer base would be like,” he said.
He soon learned that the base varies as much as the wood pieces themselves. He gets a particular thrill when customers send him photos of their finished creations.
“For me, everything was either a table or a bar,” he said. “But there are only millions of possible uses.”
Growing customer base
His customers come from all over the region, and he’s had people from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Boston travel for some of the higher-end species like Siberian elm and black walnut.
Over the past few years, he’s watched as new trends have led to new uses for his products, noting that one popular use for smaller cuts is as charcuterie boards, which are used to lay out a mixture of cured meats, cheese, olives, nuts , fruit and crackers.
“I had never heard of the word ‘sausages’ and now I find myself saying it at some point almost every day,” he said.
He collects the pieces wherever and however he can, with post-storm tree damage becoming a particularly rich source of material. Instead of coming in and charging a homeowner to remove the debris, Smith will often pay them for the pieces he takes away.
“I don’t cut them,” he said. “I just cut them.”
Smith would clean the pieces and sand them so his customers wouldn’t suffer from the splinters he endured as a job hazard.
“I like to see the beauty underneath,” he said. “Nature is the best artist.”
As with most dedicated business owners, Smith sometimes takes his work home with him.
The new cherry cabinets in his home were made and installed by a contractor using lumber from Smith’s supply, and while the hardwood floors they installed couldn’t be made from what he had on hand, Thatch said he got a significant discount from the contractor by bartering his wood for the contractor’s services.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “I like the barter system.”
In response to what he had to say about who comes to his store and for what reasons, a couple in a large white pickup pulled up outside on a recent Thursday.
George Lukin and his wife, Dale, said they came from Attleboro after seeing one of Smith’s ads on Facebook Marketplace. They were looking for two large slabs to make a table.
Smith got to work measuring and quickly found two parts that fit the bill, although they had to be cut to size to fit the couple’s truck, which he was happy to do.
He used a device to ensure the wood was dry enough to work with, and as they talked about sanders, oils and finishes, Dale developed their plans for the table, the legs of which would be made from Jack Daniels whiskey barrels , which she made a special trip to Tennessee to obtain.
Dale said what she appreciates about doing what she called “country-style” projects is that there’s no set plan to follow, and that they, as Smith said of her client base as a whole , were eager to bring their shared idea to life.
“It’s just for us, so there’s really no right or wrong way,” she said.
It’s the attitude that has prevented Smith from returning to his old life, although his calm sales skills have since come to the fore as he talked to the Luchinis as they closed the sale.
“I still wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t really love it,” he said
For more information visit plymouthliveedge.com or check out their Facebook page.