A Community molded through clay
A combined pottery, music and gift shop located 50 miles from the city of Plattsburgh has become a home away from home to residents of Malone. Walk in on a cold day in upstate New York to a warm welcoming atmosphere. What appears as a red barn house is home to colorful glazed ceramics, paint-your-own ornaments and electric guitars.
Debbie Brown Bonner started making ceramics when she was 10 years old. Ever since, she dreamed of owning her own ceramics shop in the small town of Malone, where she was born and raised. Her husband, Norman Bonner lll, became part of her dream after a close friend taught Norman how to craft ceramics. The two became dedicated to seeing the shop through. By chance, the Bonners found exactly what they were looking for in a shop when flipping through the local paper. A building with a big enough space for a pottery studio and shop was up for sale. This was the start of Clay, Cloth & Wood and Everything Music.
Debbie does not see her business as a job because it’s something she loves and is passionate about. The Bonners enjoy that their shop is a space to relax and have fun creating new things.
“Clay, Cloth & Wood is family,” Debbie says. Customers leave the store and ‘whew’ because of the relief they feel after having been inside.
The shop has ceramics already made, as well as 15,000 customizable molds for customers. Customers can also bring in their own damaged or broken ceramics for repairs or revitalizations. The Bonners get orders daily. They determine the type of glaze, heat and duration in the firing kiln based on a number of things: if the ceramic will hold food, be used inside or outside and the size of the ceramic. With both Debbie and Norman working together, the whole process can take hours, days and sometimes weeks to produce a finished piece.
The process behind making these ceramics can be repetitive and taxing, but the Bonners love putting smiles on their customers’ faces. One of the smiles that sticks with them the most was from a woman who came to the store with a damaged ceramic tree made by her grandmother as a child. The tree had cracks and was dull because it was made from an old ceramic material.
Debbie spent days working to repair the old tree, repairing the cracks and using the same color paint and glaze used on older ceramics. When the woman returned, she broke out into tears over how well Debbie repaired her tree to look just like the original. The ceramic didn’t just look like her grandmother’s tree, it was her grandmother’s tree.
The tears of joy and the huge smile on the woman’s face still make Debbie feel great to this day. “I saw that she posted about the tree on Facebook,” Mrs. Bonner says. “Now she uses the ceramic with her daughter.”
Eleven years into the ceramics shop business, the Bonners find themselves with more than they ever imagined. It was always Debbie’s dream to have the ceramic shop and possibly a gift shop, but the Bonners have already expanded beyond that. Because Malone is so small, the Bonners try to provide Malone residents with the things Malone doesn’t already have.
“We try very hard to fill the voids we have here in Malone,” says Debbie.
Everything Music, the music shop, opens every school year to cater to local school band programs. The closest music store is 40 miles away. The Bronners provide instruments and other supplies that can be rented or bought locally.
Although the Bonners have been running Everything Music for the past six years, the Happy Holidays gift shop opened just this September. The gift shop offers decorations for all holidays and gifts for any occasion.
Like a slew of businesses in New York, Clay, Cloth & Wood was forced to shut down due to the pandemic. When COVID-19 was at its peak in March, the Bonners issued a statement on Globuya, a global directory website used to help customers find local shops in different areas. In the directory the Bonners explained, “We don’t want to be the reason that the virus spread into our village. And if it gets here, we don’t want to help spread it.”
COVID-19 has made it hard for people to gather, and even harder for the Bonners to stay in business. A shop that once held paint and sip events does not have the space to seat people six feet apart. The shop’s customers have become distant; wary to sit and enjoy the things Clay, Cloth & Wood has to offer when there’s a deadly virus lurking in the air. A store that once held up to 18 people can now only fit six.
Still, The Bonners see the virus as a left-handed blessing, and they try to find the good in an uncertain present. The pandemic has allowed for a flexible schedule allowing the shop workers to come in whenever they want and stay as long as they wish.
Clay, Cloth & Wood and the Malone community are taking the pandemic one day at a time, doing their best to adjust to the new normal. Debbie continues to use Globuya to keep customers updated on business hours, social distancing regulations and updates on the music and gift shop. As the Malone community waits out the seemingly never-ending pandemic, the Bonners hope their small shop can soon feel like a family again.
Story by Christyn Pettway and Sierra McGivney
Photos by Taylor Zagrobeiny