By Steve Guntli
Miles Woodworking is not your typical furniture store.
The small showroom has a nice selection of beautiful, handcrafted tables, chairs and desks. In the back of the store, though, is a pair of display cases full of baseball cards, autographed balls and other sports memorabilia. Along the walls are photos, jerseys and signatures, mounted in distinctive, handcrafted wood frames. Having a sports memorabilia store and a furniture store in the same space may seem like an odd mix, but it’s a fitting representation of the personalities behind the store.
Joe Miles, his wife Joyce and his son Joe Jr. opened the Miles Woodworking storefront in Bellingham about seven months ago. Joe Jr. is the artist, and crafts furniture at his woodshop in Ferndale while his parents operate the store.
Joe Jr. has lived in Whatcom County for 12 years. After growing up with his family in Connecticut, he attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan to pursue his dream of being an artist. Soon after graduating, though, he shifted his focus.
“It’s hard to make a living in the visual arts,” he said. “Making furniture is much more utilitarian. It fills a need and still allows me to be creative.”
He started interning in woodshops, learning the craft from the ground up. By the time he decided to move to the Northwest, he felt confident enough in his skills to open his own woodshop.
Most of the year, Joe Jr. operates his woodshop in Ferndale by himself. He brings in part-time help during particularly busy seasons, but hopes to grow the business enough to add at least one more full-time employee. Each item he makes takes a lot of time, with some projects taking between 60 and 80 hours to complete.
“It’s definitely a labor-intensive passion,” he admitted.
Most of the items he sells can be customized to fit a person’s home needs.
“Probably the bulk of our orders are custom jobs,” he said. “The items on the show floor are all for sale, but most of our business comes from people seeing an item in the store and wanting it modified to fit their house or their design needs.”
“I started making little chairs for her, and as she grew I needed to make bigger versions, and that kind of inspired me to start making school furniture,” he said.
His wife, Gabriel, is a teacher and artist, and owns Gabriel’s Art Kids, a before and after school arts program for kids. The school is now entering its fourth year.
Joe Sr. and Joyce moved to Washington two years ago, after spending most of their lives in the Northeast. After Joe Sr. retired, he and his wife moved to Birch Bay to be closer to their family and help their son grow his business. In addition to running the furniture business, Joe Sr. saw an opportunity to indulge a long-time passion of his own.
Joe Sr. has been collecting and selling sports memorabilia for 38 years. It started as a way of bonding with his son.
“When Joe was little, I had the kind of job where I would go into work on Monday and not come back until Friday night,” he said. “So I didn’t get a lot of time to spend with my son. He was really into comic books back then and he loved collecting them. I was never a comic guy, but I started collecting cards and balls, things that I found interesting, and we connected over that.”
For 16 years, Joe Sr. was a vice president for Carvel, a popular ice cream company centered mostly in the Northeast. His purview was sports marketing, so his job put him in contact with athletes and owners for the Yankees and the Mets. As a result, New York team memorabilia dominates the shop in Bellingham: photos, cards and signatures from Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth are just some of the baseball highlights. He also sells items from other athletes, such as Russell Wilson, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. And as a little nod to his son’s early hobby, Miles Woodworking has a few framed comic book covers as well, including early “Incredible Hulk,” “Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Flash.”
The family said they have enjoyed the process of working together, and are proud to be able to invest in one another’s passions.
“We’re thrilled to be here, and we really want to be a part of the community out here,” Joe Sr. said.
Miles Woodworking is located at 1305 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. To see examples of their work, visit mileswoodworking.com.