Prickly Pear

Michelle Stanley of Toutle, adds the first layer of paint to a sled shaped house sign at a recent craft class at Centralia's Prickly Pear Primitives.

Shannon Aitken has always loved the look of primitive home décor. About 20 years ago, she decided to stop buying it and start making it herself.

That was the beginning of Prickly Pear Primitives. Aitken started the company first from her home, making her own primitive home décor. Three years ago, she opened her first retail shop, which now offers not just handmade crafts but also the opportunity to learn crafts, but the heart of the business has remained the same.

Prickly Pear

Joe Aitken, whose wife, Shannon, owns Prickly Pear Primitives nails together a sled-shaped house sign that will be painted at a recent crafting class at the Centralia store. Aitken said people often believe they use ordered kits for their classes but said every wooden piece is hand made.

“I just like to create things and see the outcome when you get to the end of a project,” she said.

Prickly Pear Primitives opened on Tower Avenue in Centralia about five months ago, after relocating from Aitken’s original location on Main Street. The shop carries a variety of mostly primitive home furnishings, about 80 percent of which are handmade either by Aitken or other local crafters. Prickly Pear offers custom wedding décor items, as well as a selection of items available for rent. The shop also offers custom sign orders and classes, which offer students the opportunity to make their own custom home décor items.

Prickly Pear Primitives is very much a family affair for the Aitken family with Shannon and daughter Emilea, 19, running the day-to-day operations of the shop. Shannon’s husband, Joe, works as a drywaller during the week but helps out at the store during the evenings and weekends, along with their two sons, Colten, 16, and Seth, 15. Joe said even before the family opened the retail space, the kids were always very much involved in the business.

Prickly Pear

(From left to right) Nicole Goodell, Tenino, Hilary Blankenship, Chehalis, Erica Lewis, Winlock, and Teresa Leonard, Centralia, work on projects during a recent craft class at Prickly Pear Primitives in downtown Centralia. In the forefront are just a few of the finished and ready-to-paint projects from past classes. The Aitken family, who own Prickly Pear, design and built all pieces for each class by hand.

“Ever since they were little, they’ve always had sanders in hands,” he said with a laugh. “We all just all like helping (Shannon) do it. She just loves it so much and she does so much of it herself.”

The family’s first experience making crafts on a large scale was when Shannon participated in the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk, for which walkers raise money for breast cancer research. To raise money, the Aitkens built and sold birdhouses out of reclaimed wood. They later sold a number of items wholesale to businesses such as the Old Cannery in Sumner.

“We were shipping our stuff to places like Alaska and all over Washington but eventually, that got to be too much,” Joe said.

That’s because the Aitken family prides themselves in making what they sell by hand. Shannon said often customers think that the family simply has a stockpile of premade items waiting in the back and that a custom order can be whipped out in a matter of hours. The reality, he noted, is that each piece is custom-made when it is ordered.

“We have a lot of time and energy into this from the lumber yard to putting them together to decorating them,” Shannon said. 

Shannon began hosting crafting classes at the store after being asked to teach a craft to a group of women at a baby shower in 2017. She said they had so much fun, she thought it would be something she could do more often.

“The classes are fun,” she said. “Even though it’s the same project, they all kind of turn out differently and sometimes I get really good ideas from some of them. I’ll see how they make it their own and think ‘that’s really cool.’” 

Prickly Pear

Teresa Leonard of Centralia works on a sled shaped house sign during a recent sign painting class at Prickly Pear Primitives in Centralia. Shop owner Shannon Aitken has been crafting for about 20 years, opened a retail store in 2016 and started offering make-your-own classes in 2017.

Crafting classes at Prickly Pear Primitives usually cost between $20 to $45 and include all of the materials to complete a project to take home. Shannon said when they first began hosting classes, participants would actually get to built their wooden items before painting them, but that ended up making classes much too long. Today, students arrive to an already built wooden item as well as customized vinyl stencils to make the projects easy for all crafting skill levels. On average, classes take between one and three hours to complete. And like their retail items, the Aitkens build all of the items for the classes by hand. 

“A lot of people think we order our stuff but we make it all,” Joe said.

Some class participants come from as far away as Thurston, Cowlitz and Pierce Counties for classes, many who find Prickly Pear through their social media presence. But Prickly Pear also has a rather robust local following, with participants who meet up at the classes for a fun time with friends and family. At a recent class, long-time customer Tabitha Fenton of Centralia said she was meeting up with some other ladies for some “mom time.”

“It’s our time together and it’s something we did, it’s not just something we bought. You put your heart and soul into it,” she said.

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