Classical Glass changes hands after three decades
A fixture of the downtown Gardnerville community, Classical Glass and Gifts has been in the same neighborhood for years.
But the store has moved in other ways. It has moved through time, through nearly three decades of business, through the unfolding story of a town and its people.
“I think back, and wow, the life that’s gone on here,” said store founder Becky Soderman, fighting back tears. “The hardest part is leaving my friends, just coming in here and having people say ‘hi’, and the memories of all the people who have worked for me – it’s been incredible.”
Now, Soderman is writing the next chapter of her life, tentatively entitled “retirement.” But on Thursday, she was back in the store, visiting with new owner and longtime confidant Kati Malone.
“I’m really happy to let it go to Kati,” Soderman said. “She’ll carry it on.”
The story of Classical Glass begins in the 1970s when Soderman began making stained glass in her home and selling it to friends. In 1975, she and John Soderman moved from Reno to Beowawe for John’s first teaching job in a small school for miners’ children. In that barren high desert country, Becky Soderman drove a school bus.
“After a year, John said, ‘Even if I have to be a house painter, we’re moving back,'” Soderman recalled.
In Gardnerville, John Soderman started his long career with the Douglas County School District, eventually becoming superintendent. A jack of all trades herself, Becky Soderman drove a school bus, worked at Copeland Lumber, and also as a baker at Raley’s.
Soderman’s two daughters, Julia, 32, and Crystal, 30, aren’t much older than the glass studio she opened in a $100-a-month space off Industrial Way in 1981. A year later, Classical Glass opened beside the Overland Hotel in what is now Ruby Rose Cowgirl Clothes. In 2000, the store moved one suite south, literally a few feet, to its current location.
“It started out as just stained glass and classes,” Soderman said. “About five years into the business, I moved toward the gift shop, but always had the stained glass and studio. Really, it’s been the evolution of the stained glass studio. I’ve done stained glass windows all over the world. Kati calls me ‘the beloved glass wizard.'”
Soderman calls herself a “responsible hippie,” a hippie who raised two daughters (one grandchild), watched her husband become the chief officer of the school district, and kept her business running through one of the worst recessions the Silver State has ever seen.
“I really want to make sure that people know of these little stores,” Soderman said. “Before people go into Reno to look for gifts, they need to come into Gardnerville and see what these stores have.
“We’ve survived,” Soderman continued. “In survival, though, you can have a broken leg. You limp along, but it mends and heals.”
About 12 years ago, Soderman was looking for some help. Fortunately, she met “a young punk kid” named Kati Noah, then a student at Douglas High.
“I heard about this girl who was taking stained glass classes with her mom,” Soderman recalled, “and I thought that was really something for a high school kid.”
It wasn’t until Kati and her future husband Jay Malone had visited Classical Glass one day that Soderman made her move. She remembers chasing the girl down to Fresh Ideas next door. She remembers the girl throwing her hands in the air, afraid she was being accused of shoplifting, and then the subsequent shock on her face when offered a job.
What followed in the next 12 years has been described by both as “The Becky and Kati Show.”
“She is the second mom I didn’t know I needed,” Malone joked Thursday. “I can’t put it into words.”
“It was kind of like teaching a child,” Soderman countered, still teasing her protege about her first stained glass project. “It was so ugly. She did a good job, but it was a horrible pattern and horrible colors.”
“People wouldn’t believe how bad I was,” Malone said. “They’d never think that seeing the work I do now. Becky has definitely fine-tuned my skills. In the beginning, I was just content opening boxes, pricing things, and trying to do glass. But Becky kept pushing me out in the store. Now, I really enjoy that part, the customer service.”
At one point during her apprenticeship, Malone started teaching classes. About four years ago, she started doing her own custom work.
“One day, Becky answered the phone,” Malone explained. “She didn’t want to deal with whatever it was, so she said, ‘Here, talk to the manager,’ and that’s how I became manager.”
“Of course, I had to give her a big raise, then,” Soderman said.
On Oct. 1 of this year, Malone officially took the reigns of the store, its torch, or whatever metaphor best captures the succession of one’s livelihood to a younger counterpart.
“I’m definitely carrying on the tradition of Classical Glass, and will always be looking for new things,” Malone said. “Becky built it from the ground up, so I’m not starting over. I will always need her in my life. I will always kind of call her my boss.”
“I’m not your boss anymore,” Soderman said. “I don’t know if I can say enough about how wonderful Kati is.”
While Malone sees Classical Glass continuing forward in time, Soderman sees herself fly fishing, hiking, kayaking, skiing and playing golf with her husband. It doesn’t hurt the couple has a condo in Big Sky, Mont., which they try to visit at least once a year.
And just because Becky Soderman is no longer the boss doesn’t mean the beloved glass wizard won’t be around.
“I’ll still going to go to the shows with Kati to help her buy,” Soderman said, tears giving way to a big, bright smile. “It’s not over, just a whole new life for me.”
Located at 1453 Highway 395, Classical Glass is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12-13, Classical Glass is hosting its annual holiday open house with surrounding shops.
Also this Friday, from noon to 6 p.m., Soderman will be at the store for a casual good-bye party.
For more information, call 782-5830.