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Around the Corner — One Little Piggy: a daughter’s passion, a father’s legacy: Pilot Independent

Lots of people who poke their heads in the door at One Little Piggy Signs in Walker, do so because they’re curious.

“Many people get confused by the name and come in to ask what it means,” says owner Emily LaFond.

Once Emily explains that the shop is named after her pit bull Piggy and the stuffed toy pig that Piggy loves dearly, visitors usually stick around to learn what this creative studio is all about.

One Little Piggy helps customers create their own custom wood signs in hundreds of designs, plus a wide variety of other DIY projects.

In addition to regular painted signs and signs with 3D wording/designs, One Little Piggy offers paint-poured shapes like the state of Minnesota, chunky blankets and insulated tumblers (cups) in many styles.

“I also plan to start offering a couple of new types of classes soon,” Emily adds.

Customers can create many DIY projects at the studio during open hours in the summer, through classes held at One Little Piggy, or by appointment during the off-season at the studio, located at 410 Minnesota Avenue in Walker. The studio’s spacious layout lets guests adhere to COVID-19’s six-foot social distance guidelines. Masks are always a requirement.

Or they can book a private sign party for a girls’ night out; as part of a bridal or baby shower; holiday or birthday party; fundraiser; or something else.

Customers have more than 350 designs online to choose from. Due to COVID, the number of designs available daily is significantly less, around 50 per day.

Emily is always looking for something new.

“I also make laser engraved coasters and ornaments for Christmas and shirts/sweatshirts that never fade or peel, where you can’t feel the design on the garment. All of those things aren’t available in classes though because the machines require special skills to use,” she adds.

Emily walks every client through every step of the project they’ve chosen. “With guidance, people are able to do the projects all by themselves,” she assures.

Some of the more memorable creations have been “Pet Portraits.” Emily makes the design from an actual picture of someone’s pet, which ends up looking just like the pet, but as an artistic black and white version.

Emily started One Little Piggy in May 2018 in a small shop in Hackensack but moved the store to Walker in February 2019 when a larger location became available.

“I needed more space and an attached workshop to cut wood,” she  explains. “Plus, my husband Chris  wanted his shop space back at our house. I had taken it over by purchasing quite a few big (woodworking) machines including a CNC (computerized router).”

Emily and Chris have two daughters, Delaney (12) and Katelyn (9), three dogs, two cats, 17 chickens and two ducks.

In the summer the store has open hours Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11-4 and 6-9, and Sundays, 11-4, where people can come in any time and pick a design off the wall to paint.

Appointments for in-store gatherings are needed from September through April. Home and restaurant parties are also available September through April when there aren’t open hours at the store.

Emily created many of the designs and sayings herself for the signs, and found others through outside sources. She owns more than 5,000 fonts, so if someone wants a custom design, many options are available. If pressed for time or if she really likes a certain design, she may purchase one.

She prefers to work with wood but has done a few 3D PVC signs on request. She also has 30 custom colors in water-based paints. She adds new things to her repertoire as soon as she masters them.

 “I started with signs for people to make, plus doing custom order furniture in my free time. I then added the 3D or carved signs, then came chunky blankets and paint pours. This year it was custom insulated tumblers.”

Where did all this talent, skill, creativity and enthusiasm come from?

They say parents are our first teachers, and that certainly is the case for Emily. Back in 1997, Emily and her family were forced from their East Grand Forks home by the Red River Flood. Her parents bought a home in Nevis and her dad, Mark Bohn, fixed it up while they lived there.

In the process, Emily says she learned many things, like how to tile a floor, sheetrock walls and do trim work. “My dad is my inspiration and where I got most of my knowledge. He taught carpentry at Northwest Tech College in East Grand Forks and he owned his own construction business.”

 In 2002 Mark started building the family house in Walker on land they owned. Emily was 15 at the time and wanted nothing to do with it, but her dad insisted she help.

“I learned how to install tongue and groove on a vaulted ceiling, blow insulation into the attic, build bathroom cabinets and more. But being 15 and not really wanting to do it, I didn’t retain much of the knowledge!”

Around 2010, Emily’s dad started showing signs of early onset dementia.

“I didn’t want all of his knowledge to just disappear, so I learned as much as I could from him. He helped me build an enclosed recycling bin and walked me through many other projects. I built coffee tables, bed frames, bookcases and anything else I could think of. I wanted to build a step stool for my kids who were young at the time and I wanted to put our last name on it, but my handwriting is terrible, so I bought a machine to cut stencils and it turned out beautifully.”

Emily also made a few signs for her home and for friends and family, and all of a sudden, everyone was asking if she could make one for them.

“I’d sit in my basement for hours, working on these signs, and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I hold a party so everyone can make their own and have fun doing it?”

In 2016 Mark’s dementia had progressed to the point that he couldn’t keep up with home maintenance. Pollie, Emily’s sister who lives in Shoreview, Wash., offered to have a “tiny house” built in her back yard for Mark and Emily’s mom Diane. Emily went out three times to help build outdoor decks and a pergola as well as install flooring, tile and kitchen cabinets. Her mom still lives there, but her dad passed away in July 2019.

“I will never be as much of a perfectionist as he was,” she admits, “but when I am making something, I always think to myself, ‘Would this be good enough to show my dad?’  I continue to learn new things that my dad never had the opportunity to learn. Back when he was able to do things, a CNC or laser were too expensive to own, so I have learned those tools on my own.”

After the COVID closure this spring, business slowly rebounded. “It was slow for a while, but with the amount of open space in my store, there’s more than enough room for many small groups to come in while still social distancing. By July business was getting better. More people were looking to get out and do something fun. Each month, even getting closer into the winter, keeps getting better. I already have parties booked in January so if someone has a certain date in mind, it’s best to book in advance!”

One Little Piggy’s fall and winter hours are by appointment only. Call (218) 536-0083 or email onelittlepiggysigns@gmail.com

The website is at www.onelittlepiggy.com or check out One Little Piggy on Facebook.