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  • By Manny Crisostomo / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Mike Buch works amid colored pottery at Panama Pottery. Much of what's for sale has been imported in recent times – it's less expensive than what's made on-site.

  • By Manny Crisostomo / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Many of the items at Panama Pottery are 25 percent off as the 99-year-old Sacramento company nears the end of its retail operation. Artists who rent space at the company's facility will remain, as will classes.

  • By Manny Crisostomo / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Erin Sevier of Sacramento purchased items at Panama Pottery on Monday afternoon. The establishment's going-out-of-business sale does not include one-of-a-kind pieces from artists renting space at the 24th Street facility.

Cathie Anderson: Historic Panama Pottery's long retail run coming to a close

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2012 - 8:31 am

The retail store at the historic Panama Pottery will close as soon as the last piece in its inventory has sold, general manager Carol Honda said Monday. She's reduced prices by 25 percent to get items moving – not that she welcomes the end.

Honda recalled asking friend Dave DeCamilla whether he had lost his mind in 2006 when he told her he had purchased and intended to revive the pottery on 24th Street, south of Sacramento City College.

Then she visited Panama Pottery – and got roped in by its charm. There are kilns as big as rooms and mounds of shards that tempt you to dig deep for a piece of the place's 99-year history.

"I started out just consulting with them and ended up quitting my regular job and diving into it," Honda said.

For a time, she and DeCamilla planned to continue making pottery. Then came the hard knocks.

Inspectors from California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration informed them of the expensive renovations needed to continue running the factory, and customers said they could buy similar products at Home Depot and Costco at lower prices.

"The pots that we were making didn't work any different than the ones coming from Mexico and China, and they cost twice as much," Honda said, adding that foreign companies "buy the clay from Lincoln. They ship it to Mexico, make a pot and ship it back to us for cheaper than we could manufacture it."

Honda shuttered the pottery making, she said, and began buying imported products. She also recruited artists to studios on the site, and classes began. The retailing took off.

"We did advertising and word of mouth," Honda said, "By the third year, we were booming."

One of those customers was Ruth Rosenburg. She grew up in Curtis Park and attended C.K. McClatchy High School, and in her world, everyone knew about Panama Pottery.

"I was just there sizing up prices on a project I was thinking of doing, trying to figure out budgeting," said Rosenberg, now an east Sacramento resident.

Budgets have tightened in the Sacramento region since 2008, when housing values plummeted and unemployment rates rose. A number of businesses in the home- and-garden niche have withered. The owner of the Capital Nursery on Freeport Boulevard said he sold the store to Raley's for enough money to make good on debt. Windmill Nursery in Carmichael and Sierra Nursery in Roseville have closed.

"I can only really point at the economy because I felt like we've done everything right," Honda said. "… I've been there every day, six, seven days a week for five years, not making any money. And, Dave has been a working partner, and he put up the money."

DeCamilla manages money at his DeCamilla Capital Management. He's something of a turnaround artist, having taken the old Sorocco Sheet Metal Co. at 36th Street and Broadway and created the Brickhouse Art Gallery.

The 45-year-old Honda, a Rio Americano High School graduate, earned a management information systems degree and master's in business administration from California State University, Sacramento.

She had built a reputation as a technology consultant with the state of California, so once she burned through her savings, she returned to that work.

Honda is uncertain of the closing date. She had ordered inventory for the normally busy June-July period, and it all must go.

Panama Pottery is accepting only cash. Consignment pieces, by the way, aren't included in the sale.

Want to see some of the flower pots, statuary and other products on sale? Visit panamapottery.com.

Classes at Panama Pottery will continue for now, and 20 to 30 artists will maintain work spaces there. Honda and DeCamilla hope someone will want to revive the retail operations.

"We would love to have somebody with the know-how and the resources to carry it on," Honda said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson





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