Meet three businesses in Wabash helping residents get creative

It’s no secret that artists contribute to community growth and development. In Wabash County, this trend is materializing in the formation of three new small businesses Downtown.

Located about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne, Wabash is a growing hub of creative activity, largely thanks to its anchor institutions, like the globally recognized Honeywell Center. Now, grassroots creators in the community are finding unique ways to help more Wabash residents awaken their inner artist from pottery painting and mosaics to candle-making, immersive gallery experiences, and more.

We meet three creative, small businesses growing in Wabash County.
1. Make It Your Own Art Studio
24 W. Canal St.

Portrait of Karen Eilts-Walter, owner of Make It Your Own Art Studio, 24 W Canal St, Wabash, IN 46992.

Karen Eilts-Walter describes herself as a “wannabe artist,” deeply inspired by the artistry in her family. Her mom, aunt, and sister are artists, too. She began making ceramics in seventh grade at the Honeywell Center, and now, she enjoys making “whimsical and undefinable” pieces. She likes using clay slabs to make cheese boards, platters, and other trays. Eilts-Walter is working on opening an Etsy store for her pottery, Smiley Happy Pottery.

Customers work on painting their pottery pieces at Make It Your Own Art Studio.

In 2001, she opened her business Make It Your Own Art Studio to give Wabash County residents and visitors a place to explore their own pottery, canvas, and board painting crafts. They offer artist-taught workshops and lessons on various other mediums for creators of all ages. During the summer, she and her sister host an art camp for children, as well.

Karen Eilts-Walter, owner, helps customers Emerson Zwiebel, 11, right, and Andrea Zwiebel with their projects at Make It Your Own Art Studio.

“I offer a space where people can come in and not worry about a mess, not worry about a cleanup,” says Eilts-Walter. “I love when parents come and let their children do whatever they want. Parents let them pick their colors, and they might say, ‘Oh, this will be a mess!’ But it comes back this beautiful piece.” 

2. JoJo's OlFactory Co.
36 W. Canal St.

Portrait of Holly Ward, left, and daughter Abby Ward owners of JoJo's OlFactory Co.

Holly Ward and Abby Ward, a mother/daughter duo, opened JoJo’s OlFactory Co. in April of 2021. JoJo’s is a fragrance bar where you can create your own candles, wax melts, and scrubs. They often use their backroom as an event space, where they host events of their own or allow people to rent it out for personal events, parties, or meetings. 

Abby Ward, left, and mother Holly Ward, owners, work together to make a Valentine's Day candle at JoJo's OlFactory Co.

After visiting similar stores in other cities, Abby thought a fragrance bar would do well in Wabash, so she applied for a program that helps small businesses get off the ground. Then, she asked her mom to join her, and months later, they opened their doors. They both agree the opening of JoJo’s was a right place, right time situation. 

“Best place to ever open a store,” Holly says of Wabash. 

Customers Jackson Brough, left, and Avery Fowler work together to mix scents at JoJo's OlFactory Co.

Holly and Abby are both working other full-time jobs, but they say the passion for JoJo’s is upheld by their staff and their repeat customers. And this mother/daughter duo isn’t just striving for success on their own. 

“We want to continue to partner with other businesses and have different types of things for people to gather,” says Holly. “We want to support other small businesses, or no one will survive, branch out to other places, other counties.” 

Abby Ward, left, and mother Holly Ward, owners, work together to make a Valentine's Day candle at JoJo's OlFactory Co.

3. 4 Partners in Crime
14 W. Canal

Headshot of Julie Dickey, owner, at the future location of 4Partners in Crime, Inc. an art space for food & spirit at 14 W Canal St. Wabash, IN on January 15, 2022.

Artist Julie Dickey started drawing and painting at a young age. Now, she says she has a love affair with glass, which she uses to make mosaics. She likes to play with the glass, and explore different end results it can produce. Dickey says being an artist can be challenging, but she appreciates the voice and healing it can bring to anyone who participates.

Art can support stronger mental health. Here, a client paints pottery at Make It Your Own Art Studio.

She is working toward the opening of her business, 4 Partners in Crime, which will be a two-story art gallery, studio, and lounge in Downtown Wabash. She’s is waiting for final construction plans and permits, but if all goes well, the first floor will be an art gallery featuring the work of artists all over the world, a cocktail and craft beer bar, and a menu offering tapas and small plate dishes. Dickey says artwork on the first floor will be for sale, but she won’t be taking a commission from the sales, as most gallery owners do. Instead, she will ask the artist to donate a portion of the sale to a local art program to help increase access to the arts in Wabash County.

Exterior at the future location of 4Partners in Crime, Inc. an art space for food & spirit at 14 W Canal St. Wabash, IN on January 15, 2022.

The second floor of her business will be a wide-open space for art classes, where artists will come to teach immersive workshops. Dickey says artists of all skill levels will be welcomed. 

Originally from California, she and her husband were planning to relocate and explore opportunities on the East Coast or down South. Then she was invited to Wabash for an immersive art experience and fell in love with the town with its historic buildings and community energy. She went home and began convincing her husband Wabash was the place for them.

“The community itself, the city, the permitting, it’s been so incredibly wonderful and easy,” says Dickey. “It’s one of the reasons I knew I could do it here. In California, there’s no way I could be doing this as a small business.”

Dickey says she’s hoping to be open in May, but due to delays in construction, it may take longer for 4 Partners in Crime to officially open. In the meantime, she has been getting involved with the community and spreading the word about her business.

Wabash is the focus of a new Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne funded by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.

Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne’s Assistant Editor. She previously worked for Northeast Indiana Public Radio and participated in the College Input Program.