By Jim Roberts
Opening a small, brick-and-mortar woodworking supply store in the age of Amazon and “big box” competition might not seem like the wisest business decision, but James Brooks is making it work.
His Norfolk Wood Shop—located across the street from Elation Brewing in the bustling North Colley business district—celebrated its one-year anniversary in November.
“One of our biggest challenges is just people knowing about us,” Brooks said. “We hear this all the time when people walk in the door for the first time. ‘Oh, my god, I had no idea this was here! This is amazing. I’m gonna send all my friends here too.’ Just by walking in the door, we end up converting people to customers. We love what we’re doing, and if you love woodworking, it’s easy to see that.”
Brooks opened the store on Black Friday in 2022 after a year of due diligence with a friend.
“We definitely wanted something where we could support local makers with better-priced items,” he said. “As it turned out, we can actually be quite competitive with price. The Woodcrafts and the Rocklers in the world, they have a lot of overhead that we just don’t have with 1,500 square feet on Colley Avenue, so we’re actually able to offer pretty price-competitive supplies, tools, wood, lumber—you name it.”
Here’s the knot in Brooks’ story: His business partner backed out just before the shop opened.
“As we got closer and closer to opening up,” he said, “it kind of looked like my friend wanted to start a family. So all of their effort and energy was going to end up being put there, and I had to make a decision pretty quickly. Do I want to try this on my own or not? And I went for it.”
Brooks works full-time as an engineer, so he hired Nevis Muir and Mallory Yoder to run the shop.
“The response has been really, really good,” Muir said. “First year, definitely the struggle was getting the word out, having people find out about us. But now we’re in a place where just about everybody who comes in comes back, and the word is getting out there. People are finding out about us.”
The shop sells power tools, hand tools, a wide range of finishes and epoxies, and other related items, but the best seller is … wood.
“It’s all locally sourced, live-edge lumber,” Muir said. “It’s all been dried, and it’s ready to work with. Most of it’s been surfaced on both sides. So, you know, for people who don’t have the tools to flatten a slab out, that work’s done for them. That’s been the big thing.”
The shop also hosts classes and sells locals’ products on consignment.
Dick Boykin, a woodworker who lives just a few blocks away from the shop, dropped off some of his map serving trays in December. “Nevis is super enthusiastic about selling them,” Boykin said. “He’s got nice stuff in there—that’s for sure.”
So what happened with Brooks’ partner?
“We’re actually still really good friends,” Brooks said. “He wanted to encourage me to do some woodworking; he said, ‘For Christmas, I want a baby rattle.’ So I actually made the time, I got my shop set up … and I got some river rocks from right out in front my yard … and then turned it on the lathe—three different woods. It actually came out quite nice.”
Maybe they will collaborate when Brooks is ready to pursue his dream of opening a whiskey bar. For now though, the focus is clearly on wood.
“I’m pretty hopeful about the future,” Brooks said. “Our sales trends have always been upward … so I’m still optimistic.”
Norfolk Wood Shop is located at 5115 Colley Ave., at NorfolkWoodShop.com, and on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo.