Nicole Schaefer walked into Tribal Weaver to find an interesting piece of jewelry. She walked out with a job.
Five years later, she owns the store with another former employee, Lydia Rasmussen.
The opportunity proved to be exciting and unexpected for the pair, but the work has been perfectly in line with their passions and goals.
Rasmussen worked on and off at Tribal Weaver for four years before she and Schaefer became co-owners. In her time away from Grass Valley, she majored in the history of art and visual culture, with an emphasis on non-Western art, at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
After completing her degree, she considered teaching or working in a gallery and decided to return to Grass Valley.
Rasmussen had stayed in touch with the previous Tribal Weaver owners, Dan and Patricia Tannenbaum, who offered her the chance to purchase the store. She seized the opportunity.
Her interest in teaching has carried over into her work with Tribal Weaver, where she can educate patrons on the history and nuances of cultural and religious pieces.
“When you start looking at art from a non-Western perspective, it opens up a whole new world and makes you think about cultures in another way,” she said.
For instance, a Buddha statue may seem like a generalized piece of Buddhist culture to the average person, said Rasmussen, but such objects are sacred deities with details and history.
“You see the different details like the clothing or hand postures and how much more significance they carry, which just gives you a different understanding,” she said. “So when you take it home, you have a lot more thought behind it than just, ‘This is an aesthetic piece.’ It might represent love or beauty or family.”
Schaefer uses her interest in jewelry-making to help customers.
Her favorite part is when she has the chance to make someone’s day, such as when a regular customer needs to replace a cherished item or find the perfect gift.
As a former army wife, Schaefer has traveled the globe and lived in places as far away as Kitzinten, Germany, Augusta, Ga., and Tacoma, Wash.
She gave birth to her first child, Serena, 12, while in Germany before returning to Grass Valley when her husband was deployed to Iraq.
Once back in Nevada County, she got news that she was pregnant with a second child.
“It was especially difficult when I think about what a short time period it was,” she said of moving while juggling her relationship and caring for Serena.
Yet despite the difficulties and uncertainty she experienced, Grass Valley remains her favorite place to live, Schaefer said. After her travels, she sees Nevada County in a different light than she had before.
“When you’re a kid growing up here, you think there’s nothing to do, and you can’t wait to get out,” she said. “Having lived in those other places, I feel really appreciative.”
The people and the environment are more open and friendly in Nevada County, Schaefer said.
“Georgia especially was very different for me, and Washington was a lot like here but more rainy,” she said. “Everywhere I lived seemed more like a big city where people didn’t connect.”
And the connections she formed in Nevada County are what led her to where she is now, as it was an acquaintance who worked at Tribal Weaver who first suggested that Schaefer apply.
The job allowed her to quit delivering newspapers, which had made caring for her two children difficult.
Schaefer has now been at Tribal Weaver for five years, three as an owner. The store offers a host of worldwide-imported goods that include clothing, purses, accessories and body jewelry.
“The importers are from this area or live in this area and import from Bali and Indonesia, Nepal and India,” said Schaefer.
This year marks the shop’s 20th anniversary, and Rasmussen and Schaefer are celebrating with a promotion offering 20 percent off a different store item every month in 2013.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.