Of Clocks and Cobblers — Tacoma Craftsmen and Women Breathe New Life into Old Trades

Arts and Crafts Press owner Yoshiko Yamamoto poses for the camera with a genuine printing press.

Craft is the merging of manufacturing and art, both of which have a rich history in Tacoma — one that continues today. Blue-collar labor is what built Grit City and is still evidenced in the thriving Port of Tacoma, the industrial brick facades of downtown, and each year’s graduating class of tradesmen and women from Bates Technical College. Art in Tacoma, historically beginning with local Native American paintings and carvings, has been burgeoning in recent years due to the well-endowed museums and the lively scene of young, local artists.

Crafts today are often thought of as antiquated, and certainly not a profession — maybe just a hobby to enjoy with kids on a rainy Sunday. Tacoma knows the value of history, though, and is home to a large community that refuses to forget the skills that our forefathers practiced, preserving these trades well into the 21st century.

The craftspeople below are just a few of the more prolific in Tacoma — this is not a complete list. Additionally, this list only contains some of the more time-honored crafts; many Tacomans have developed new crafts, created new art forms, and built more innovative machines. I encourage you to seek them out and see what is being made in your community!

Franco the Tailor moved to Tacoma from Italy in 1963. He's been helping local look their finest ever since. Photo credit: Sharon Styer.
Franco the Tailor moved to Tacoma from Italy in 1963. He’s been helping local look their finest ever since. Photo credit: Sharon Styer.

Franco the Tailor 

The homely, old-world façade of this shop in Stadium District (topped with an Italian flag sign) is no false advertising. Franco hails from a time and place where people were defined by — and proud of — their crafts. He moved to Tacoma from Italy in 1963 and has been custom making and repairing high-quality men’s suits ever since.

16 N Tacoma Ave, Tacoma, WA 984030 | 253-627-2336

Proctor Shoe Repair 

Anyone living near the Proctor area is doubtlessly familiar with this shop, now notorious for its backlog over the last year, with people complaining of not getting their orders back for months. Regardless of how you feel about the expediency of the place, owner Henry is a genuine cobbler — and one of the only ones in the region. His inability to find skilled help (and the fact that Nordstrom sources their repairs through PSR) is the main reason for the recent backlog. Whether they are open or not, peek in the window to enjoy their collection of old shoes and vintage cobbler elf statues (apparently none of them come alive to fix shoes at night).

3817 1/2 N 26th St, Tacoma, WA 98407 |253-759-0515

Owner and repairman extraordinaire Jim Sparks knows clocks inside and out. Photo courtesy: Jim Sparks.
Owner and repairman extraordinaire Jim Sparks knows clocks inside and out. Photo courtesy: Jim Sparks.

Point Defiance Clock Shop

On the hour, every hour, this tiny shop on 6th Ave is filled with the clanging, chiming, ringing, cacophony of dozens of antique clocks going off at the same time. Owner Jim Sparks has been fixing watches and clocks (antique and new) in this space since 1989, and has been in the business since 1969 — he doesn’t even notice the noise anymore. Buy a clock or drop one off for repair, but definitely stick around to see a true craftsmen working with some of the oldest — and most delicate — machinated inventions.

 6509 6th Ave, Tacoma, WA 98406 | 253-752-9657

The Arts and Crafts Press

This printing studio on South Tacoma Way is the perfect example of an old craft melding with new art and entrepreneurship. The Arts and Crafts Press, founded by Yoshiko Yamamoto and Bruce Smith in 1996, was a Spaceworks Creative Enterprise in 2014. They use hand-cut blocks of different materials, from old-fashioned wood and linoleum to more modern photopolymer plates.

2515 B South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, WA 98409 | 360-871-7707

As you can tell, these businesses do not mess around with their names: you know what you are getting! Here are a few not-so-obvious, not-so-common craft shops in Tacoma: 

House of Kerri

Kerri’s website proclaims her as the “South Sound’s One and Only Vintage Furrier.” Check out her vintage, often recycled, fur capes, coats, wraps and more. House of Kerri was also a Spaceworks Creative Enterprise in 2014.

5021 So. Junett St., Tacoma, WA 98409 | 253-473-2371 

Throwing Mud Gallery
Try your own hand at a trade at Throwing Mud Gallery in Tacoma. Photo courtesy: Throwing Mud Gallery/Facebook.

Throwing Mud Gallery

It’s as fun as it sounds! Throwing Mud Gallery is a collective for local potters and clay artists that also offers classes and paint-your-own studio hours.

2212 N 30th St, Tacoma, WA 98403 | 253-254-7961 

Hilltop Artists

Glass blowing is one of the most unique features of the Tacoma art scene, and Hilltop Artists is a beautiful example of how art, education and work can harmoniously entwine.

602 N Sprague Ave, Tacoma, WA 98403 | 253-571-7670