Calhoun County

A love for crafting becomes a retreat center business enterprise for women in Calhoun County

Crafting is big business for two women in Calhoun County who have turned private homes into dedicated spaces for scrapbookers and quilters.
On any given weekend and some weekdays, Katrina Asselin, owner of Riverside Retreats in Marshall and Kim Hall, who helps manage Creekside Crafting Retreats in Emmett Township, are hosting crafters who come from throughout the United States to gather with friends and family to work on projects, catch up with each other and share meals and late-night snacks together.
Asselin likens these gatherings as the modern-day version of quilting bees.
“It’s a girl’s weekend with friends. That’s one of the biggest reasons people do this,” Asselin says. “I enjoy doing this as a business because people are making memories together and are engaged in face-to-face conversation. People like to be artistic.”
Although each of the six homes she rents out are specifically designed to accommodate scrapbookers and quilters, she says the spaces also offer flexibility for clients who do card-making or any number of other crafting activities. Their work is done in large rooms with rectangular-shaped tables that offer up to six feet of work space for each crafter that include special lighting.
The 7,000-square-foot home that houses Creekside Crafting Retreats owned by Glenda Brewer, Hall’s mother, has one large room with a set-up similar to that offered at Riverside Retreats.
Inside crafting retreat houses owned and operated by Riverside Retreats.Hall says these get-togethers are a way for Creekside guests to relax and rejuvenate “because you’re with a bunch of people who like and do the same things that you do. You get ideas from each other too, like quilting with paper. This table might be doing one thing and this table may be doing another thing.”
The idea to establish weekend retreats as businesses grew out of Asselin’s and Hall’s own interests in crafting. Both avid scrapbookers, they say they noticed a need that they could fill.
Hall says she first learned about these retreats when friends in North Carolina where she had been living asked her to join them. When she relocated back to Battle Creek 11 years ago to be closer to her mom and help her out with two tanning salons she owns, Hall says she discussed the idea of these retreat locations with her.
“If you’re into crafting you hear about this stuff. They reach out and tell everybody about it,” Hall says.
Brewer purchased the home on Creekside Drive in Emmett Township with the idea to open it as a retreat center for crafters. Hall, Brewer's son Dan, and granddaughter Ashley Belcher (Hall’s daughter), all help with the maintenance and operation of the business that opened in 2017.
The three-story home has nine bedrooms with various configurations of twin beds, multiple bathrooms, and two fully-stocked kitchens. There are also living room areas where people can talk, watch TV, or play cards or board games. It can sleep up to 35 people.
Crafting retreat houses owned and operated by Riverside Retreats.Asselin’s six homes can each accommodate between 8 to 16 people. In addition to a main crafting room, each of the homes has a fully-stocked kitchen, dining, and living room areas. Five of the homes are all in a row along B Drive with the sixth one located two miles away.
The first home Asselin used for crafting retreats was the house she and her family originally lived in. She and her husband, a buyer for Henckel Chrysler Jeep in Battle Creek, built a house next door that became their primary residence.
In total, they have built four new homes and remodeled two, including the house next door to them, since opening Riverside Retreats in 2009.
Like Hall, Asselin learned about these retreats by going to them. A former nurse, she was introduced to scrapbooking by a Creative Memories consultant. By this time, she had quit her nursing job in Coldwater to focus on raising her two children and became the mom who volunteered to help out with arts and crafts projects at school.
“My kids were very little at the time and scrapbooking was a fun way to make albums and record family stories,” Asselin says. “The consultant rented out a B & B in Grand Beach and I’d go for the weekend. It was a girls weekend where we worked on photo albums, talked, and got to know other people.”
When her son entered kindergarten, she says she thought her husband would tell her that it was time for her to go back to work.
Inside crafting retreat houses owned and operated by Riverside Retreats.“I liked being a say-at-home mom and came up with the idea to start offering weekend retreats as a business,” Asselin says. “We are good savers. We laid out a plan for finances and what we’d need to do. It took a year or two to come up with the plans. We bought the property next door to build a new house to move into to be our family home and the old house was turned into our first scrapbooking house. I thought ‘One house and I’d be good.’ I never intended to expand like we have.”
But, the demand made her reconsider. 
Plenty to choose from in the Midwest
In the Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota appear to have the largest number of scrapbooking retreat facilities, according to a map on the Retreats & Co. website. The next highest numbers are in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
According to the Association for Creative Industries 62% – nearly two-thirds – of U.S. households participate in one crafting hobby. The AFCI says crafters don’t stick to just one craft but by and large participate in multiple crafting hobbies. Only 16% of the crafters engage in one craft, while 39% participate in 2 to 4 and 45% are involved in five or more creative hobbies.
With a total market size of $36 billion, crafting supplies are sold at some 75,000 retail outlets, including specialty craft stores, national crafting chains, mass market discount stores, dollar stores, art supply stores, even hardware and drug stores.
The top creative hobbies are edible arts (17%); painting and drawing (16%); kids crafts (16%); sewing and fabric (11%) and paper crafts (11%). Younger millennial crafters, however, have distinct preferences, being drawn to painting and drawing, paper crafts, wood crafts and home décor crafting.
Millennials also engage with their children in the love of crafting. The AFCI says, “Millennial parents are getting involved in kids’ crafts as they see crafting as a way to bond with their children. They also recognize the benefits of their kids participating in these activities for creative development and hand-eye coordination.”
Crafting retreat houses owned and operated by Riverside Retreats.“Today, crafters are the youngest they’ve ever been,” said Mark Hill, CEO of the AFCI for a story in Forbes magazine. “The largest percentage of crafters (41%) are millennials, between the ages of 18-and-34 years old. Some 36% are 35-to-54 and 23% are 55 and older.”
Asselin and Hall say the majority of their guests continue to be women over the age of 40 who focus on scrapbooking and quilting and use these retreats as opportunities to gather with friends and family members, some of whom live in other parts of the country. The majority of Asselin’s guests come from within a five-hour radius of Marshall, but she also has hosted women who fly in from Florida and one woman who flies in from Alaska twice a year to meet friends for crafting weekends.
Hall says a lot of her mother’s clientele are from the Battle Creek area, but she also has people who come from areas including Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Holland and one large group that flies in from different parts of the United States.
“Once they come, they re-book,” Hall says. “We’ve started to book into 2024 because it’s hard to find a place that gives you space for a large number of people to come in.”
Asselin says she also has a lot of repeat customers who book the same weekend year after year.
“January to March and September through November, we are at capacity,” she says.
The typical retreats runs Thursday to Sunday which gives cleaning crews time to come in and prepare the homes for the next set of visitors. Asselin and Brewer and her family members involvement during these retreats is limited to greeting guests and stopping by to see how they’re doing or if they need anything. Guests are responsible for their own meals, often prepared in the retreat homes kitchens, and for any supplies or equipment they need to work on their projects.
“The whole group doesn’t do everything together,” Hall says. “Some may go out to eat and some may fix a meal in the morning and in the evening and have snacks. It’s just a relaxation weekend where they can also watch movies or play cards.”
Asselin says COVID and the constraints it placed on the ability of people to gather really heightened the importance of being able to gather and spend time with one another. She says she thinks this is why these weekend retreats continue to be popular.
“People like to get together and even more so after COVID. We were the busiest we’d ever been in 2021 because people just wanted to be together,” she says. “These retreats give them the opportunity to be together with friends and relax and not have to do housework and record and create family memories that they can pass down.”

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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.