Twelve years ago I discovered The Dovetail Artisans, a charming gift shop at 105 E. Glenside Ave, in Glenside, just a few doors down from where Rizzo’s Pizzeria & Restaurant had been for 60 …
Twelve years ago I discovered The Dovetail Artisans, a charming gift shop at 105 E. Glenside Ave, in Glenside, just a few doors down from where Rizzo’s Pizzeria & Restaurant had been for 60 years (where my friends and I often hung out as teenagers). I must have spent more than an hour just going through the greeting cards, the funniest collection I think I have ever seen.
And there was a stunning variety of handmade crafts, including hand-painted tiles with Native American themes, created by a Cherokee artist, hand-dyed silk scarves, Judaica items such as Hanukkah candle holders, sculpted graphite objects, hand-painted clocks and bottles and soaps, stained glass items, puzzles and mobiles, bubbling water fountains and much more. Almost everything was handcrafted in the U.S. or Canada, and many local craftspeople were well represented.
And the owner, Elayne Aion, was such a fascinating storyteller that we wound up chatting for more than two hours. When Elayne, now 67, attended Penn State University’s main campus, she was already a pioneer. In 1974 the Cheltenham High School graduate became the first female bartender that Zeno’s, the college bar, had ever hired. Not exactly like being the first person to walk on the moon, but it was symptomatic of Elayne’s iconoclastic spirit.
And after 16 years of marriage and raising two sons — Justin, now 38, a math and science teacher in the Pittsburgh area, and Myles, now 33, a labor organizer for nurses — Elayne realized she was gay. She split up with her husband, who now lives in St. Louis and with whom she still has a cordial relationship. “He is a fine man,” said Elayne, “but we just couldn’t continue the way we were.”
For the past 24 years, Elayne has had a committed relationship with her life partner, Joan Liehe, 79, a retired instrumental music teacher in the Cheltenham School District, at their home near Glenside. Elayne and Joan were legally married on Nov. 22, 2014.
I just discovered that in another week or two, this fascinating individual will no longer be the owner of The Dovetail Artisans, which is being taken over by a woman with the interesting name of Rhiannon Cragle Punzo, an artist and Glenside resident whose family has for years run a business called Endless Mountains Maple Syrup.
“My family began tapping trees and boiling sap in the 1700s,” said Rhiannon. “I am now the 'urban arm' of the business, selling all of their goods at the Glenside Farmers Market. These products, along with local honey, bags of freshly roasted Valley Green Coffee, specialty baked goods, soaps and many fantastic new pantry finds, will be making their way into the 'new' Dovetail in the very near future.”
Is the pandemic one of Elayne's reasons for selling the business? “Well yes, but not in the way people usually think. I confess I was happy being at home for the shutdown, which surprised me. I'd had a 10-year plan for the store, and I'm now in year 14 but had been reluctant to retire without knowing what I wanted to do with my time. What I learned during those many months is that I don't have to have a concrete plan, and my retirement will unfold organically, and whatever it is, I'll make it work for me.
“Not only did I enjoy having so much time on my hands, but my wife and I really appreciated the time we had together. None of us is guaranteed a future, so we realized we wanted to maximize the time we have now. The third factor for me was that the former owner of the store, Donna Donohue, who has been my only back up at work for a while, is moving out of the area.”
A social work major, Aion (the word is the pronunciation of the letter “I” in the Hebrew alphabet) is a former member of the Peace Corps, which sent her to the Philippines, where she taught proper nutrition to a mountain tribe of headhunters in the Kalinga-Apayo province for two years. “I learned Ilocano, which was the common language of the mountain provinces,” she said. “In one case, they told me this meat I was eating was from a deer. As it turned out, it was really from a dog ... Later, I ate no meat for 15 years.”
For more information about The Dovetail Artisans, visit www.thedovetailartisans.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org