- Associated Press - Sunday, September 11, 2016

MILLSTADT, Ill. (AP) - Live Oak Wine Decor in Millstadt is what it sounds like: Owner Dave Chaput takes used wine barrels and wooden shipping crates and makes them into decorative and functional items.

It’s a pretty wide array of items, ranging from bar stools, tables and Lazy Susans to hot pads made of wine corks and beer and wine flights made using staves from wine barrels. Custom laser engraving also is offered at the shop.

At least a hundred people have something made at the shop but they may not know it: When Columbia-based Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery unveiled a new bourbon at a recent release party, the first 100 of those bottles came in custom engraved wooden cases made at Live Oak.

Customers also can rent items from the shop.

Chaput, who lives in Smithton and is relatively newly retired, says he’s loved woodworking all his life. Running his business, he says, sure beats his previous jobs.

Q: How did you come to starting this business?

A: “We’ve been operating ever since about the first of this year. I retired last year. I’ve been the CFO (chief financial officer) of a couple mining companies. My last job was in Denver. I met some people out there who did similar stuff and kind of inspired me to do a wine-themed business. It’s pretty popular with people. We’ve focused on a couple of different areas using wine crate panels and wine barrels for wine-themed home decor. I’ve always liked woodworking, always been a woodworker so it seemed a natural fit to meld the two things together. It was a good time to do it. I was able to get this building; it’s kind of a neat old building. Used to be a hardware store. It’s all worked out pretty well.”

Q: Seems like anything wine- or booze-themed is successful. Why might that be?

A: “We had a couple in here who were redoing their basement. They bought a bunch of stools and an end table and some mirrors. The wife was like ‘Well I’ll take one of these and two of these’ and so on. I’m not really sure (why the wine theme is so popular). It’s kind of that rustic feel, the wine feel. We also do event rentals. We’ve been involved with a number of people getting married at outdoor venues or wineries and we’ve rented out barrels, glass-top tables, candle staves. We’ve also got raw oak planks with the bark on them that we use for tabletops.”

Q: When you think up ideas of things to make, is the sky the limit for that creative process?

A: “I like them to be functional pieces of art, if you will, that people can use. The Lazy Susans for instance are pretty practical, some of the trays made out of the wine panels are good for parties or in the kitchen.”

Q: I assume this work is more relaxing than being a company CFO.

A: “It’s a lot better. I get a lot of flexibility. It’s not the 9-to-5 grind or the 7-to-7 grind, if you will. I was in the mining business for 35 years. That’s pretty intense stuff. This is much more relaxing, much more enjoyable.”

Q: What was it like making the transition from that life to this one?

A: “I’ve met a lot of really nice people in Millstadt. A lot of people have come by to see what we’re doing. They’ll see the barrels in the windows and want to know what’s going on. Had some really great people drop in. Running your own business, in a lot of ways it’s so much easier because you don’t have 50 people working for you. But now you’re dealing with credit cards and sales tax and all the minutiae. You start out just wanting to make stuff, soon it becomes a real business. But it’s not bad. It’s all stuff that I know about. I think if you’re starting from scratch and trying to learn all that stuff and didn’t have any experience, it would be more difficult.”

Q: Where are you getting your raw materials from?

A: “The barrels we get from a few different barrel brokers, one’s in Denver and one’s in Milwaukee. But all the barrels essentially come from California. We have to buy them a truckload at a time for it to make sense. The panels and crates are a little bit more difficult. The barrels all end up in one place but the crates all end up in different liquor stores or distributors. That’s a little more work to try to collect those. But I’ve made a number of contacts across the country where I can get the crates.”

Q: You’re reusing things originally meant for a single purpose. What’s it like giving new life to these materials?

A: “They have so many barrels in California that a lot of times they’re just getting thrown out or cut in half so people plant flowers in them. They’re wasted. I like wood, I hate to see the wood wasted. It’s nice to be able to get that repurposed or recycled and put it to use again. We’ll make something for people that they’ll be able to use in their home and enjoy for a long time. We refer to it kind of as a useful piece of art, something they can use and enjoy seeing.”

Q: Where did your love of woodworking come from?

A: “We always did our own work at home (growing up), so we’ve always worked with wood. And I’ve always loved it, and have been collecting the tools over the last 35 years. Being retired, I have an opportunity to put it to use in a business now.”

Q: Before you retired, did you think you’d be running this business?

A. “For the last couple years I’ve been thinking about it. We bought the building two years ago. It’s been in the planning stages for quite a while.”

Q: How has the response been from customers and passers-by?

A: “Very positive feedback. They really like the theme of what we’re doing, and they like the actual projects we’re doing. The other thing that people like is not only what we have on the shelves but that we can customize things. We’ve been really surprised and pleased by the amount of traffic we’ve had. There’s a ton of traffic, and not just people from this area. People from all over. We never thought much of being a retail location but we’ve kind of had to rethink that. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve met a lot of great people.”

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Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/2bEC17o

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Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, https://www.bnd.com

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