Widgets Magazine

Sharna Nicholson Chats the North Fork, the Vineyard Barn and Empowering Women

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: It was a long journey; my husband and I are relatively recent arrivals. But we love it here; we’re now locals-by-choice.

I grew up in Queens and had never heard of the North Fork; to me, Long Island meant Jones Beach. I attended college upstate and decided to move back there for employment and the ‘country’ lifestyle, never expecting to live there for more than 30 years. But even though my husband and I built our dream home on a beautiful wooded property near Lake Ontario, eventually I said this is not enough, I want to go home.

We visited Orient Point, watched the sailboats and ferries crossing the sound, felt the sun on our faces even on a cool day, and I could see my husband falling in love—so I thought, there’s hope!

Q: So where did you land?

A: Our home used to be the Catapano goat farm before they moved to Peconic. The people who lived here after them had bought the property as a weekend place and to make a wine education center. They planted 99 vines and converted the barn with solar air conditioning and heating, using it as their classroom.

North Fork Vineyard Barn

We fell in love with the place, made an offer and it was ours in 24 hours. It felt as if it was meant to be -  just perfect.

We love open space, gardening, the farms, the wineries, beaches, water and sailing, and the authenticity of the people here. Living here felt as if we had found everything we loved about upstate NY, and but in a place we wanted to be even more. Plus, we were close enough to my family in the New York area, and my husband could commute into the city as needed.

We had no clue what we would do with the barn, but we loved it.

Q: So what have you done with it?

A: One thing we do is host a pop-up art and craft gift shop for the holiday season. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, though. To really understand the spirit of our craft shop, you need a little more context.

When I was in corporate America I was very unhappy in my last job. I went to a Mary Kay party, and I found a lot of women for whom life was a joy, and I got into it for me. I became a Mary Kay consultant on the side. Several years later I had a freak accident, fell, hit my head, and had a basal skull fracture. My boss wanted to know when I was coming back, but I’d seen the light and realized I just didn’t want to come back.

I had found a place in my Mary Kay business where women who did not feel like they were worth much felt supported. It’s so much more than a business to me. Anyone can go CVS and buy a lipstick. But not everyone can have someone look at them as if they had a sign around their neck that announces how beautiful and special they are.

So, back to the pop up shop in the barn. On the holidays I always had a sale for my Mary Kay customers. When we moved here three years ago-- just in time for a Nor’easter and Hurricane Sandy—I asked my neighbor who had a landscape business to join me in the barn for the sale, and that was the spark. And that spark became my passion. This is now my third year.

Each year I feature women artists and crafters. In Upstate New York we had phenomenal craft shows, and while Hallockville does an amazing job, I don’t see as many opportunities on the North Fork for people to sell their work without paying a high commission to galleries. While I don’t intend to turn the barn into a store, I care very much about giving these women an opportunity to sell their works.

Q: Who are you featuring this year?

A: One woman I met at the Hallockville festival and she’s a fabulous fiber artist. She was thrilled to be here, and I’ve invited her back several years now.

Another is a linoleum block artist from upstate that I’ve known for a long time. She couldn’t come this year, but she sent work to sell. Her prints are beautiful—nature, water.

The third artist, Rima Berzin, my very talented sister, is a NYC based fine art photographer.   A romantic perspective is clearly seen in her nature photography as well as her personalized photo sessions.  Rima finds beauty in photographing the North Fork’s changing seasons and has been a contributing artist to the Holiday Barn Boutique for the last two years.

The last person I just discovered at my sale last week, when she came as a customer. This woman has a cat rescue program, and she and her mother sew wine gift bags. All of her proceeds go to her cat rescue program. They have the feral cats neutered and released and the kittens put up for adoption.

My vision of barn is the right venue for some people, for others it’s not. Print selling may not be the best product for this venue; a woman I just met makes silver jewelry and is interested in joining us next yea.r We’ve already started that conversation.

Q: If someone wants to shop, do they just show up at the barn?

A: Not now. Every year we kick off the pop up boutique with a weekend long event in the barn, which this year was November 13-15. (Check out some pictures here). Now the artists’ work is for sale by appointment, through at least December 15th. To make an appointment, just call me at 631 298 7723. That’s my home number; I’m there most of the time but if I’m out it’s the best way to leave me a message.

Q: This pop up shop is just part of the year; do you have other uses for the barn in mind?

A: Yes. John and I see the barn as a beautiful venue for sharing with others.  We continue to meet new ‘local by choice’ people that moved here perhaps to slow down from their up-island busy lives.

One of the ideas we have has to do with our Backyard Vineyard.  Because we inherited a vineyard of 99 vines, and I love gardening, we thought we’d try to make our own wine. Not to sell, just for ourselves and as gifts for friends. I had no idea how hard it was to grow wine grapes. We just harvested our first crop—very small—we’re still working on figuring it all out.

first_harvest

We’ve gotten quite good at drinking wine, of course.  Another thought for our barn is a community of other vintners on our scale to come together. We think there might be other backyard novices that would like to network.

Q: It’s striking how each idea for the barn is community oriented, community building.

A: Well, both my husband and I have retired from full time work in Education and Corporate America, but have always been very involved in community activities, and volunteering.

Besides his full time employment as Director of Math, Vice-Principal, Coordinator of Instruction and Math teacher, my husband was a Paramedic on the side for many years—He now works as a Math Consultant with NY schools. He really loved the EMT work and now he volunteers with the coast guard auxiliary.

I have volunteered in the schools and Nursing Homes.  We want to stay involved in the community, and the challenge is figuring out how to do all these things.

I don’t consider myself unusual; I’ve just lived an average life with all of its challenges.  My children are now adults with their own lives.  Like many women who juggled family and careers, I’m not ready to retire yet.  I’ve been married for over 30 years and now I’m examining my life and what I want to do next.  My husband and I want to travel and explore and once again find new challenges.

I have had a very diverse career, but the place I’m in now is terrific—it’s a whole new book in life. My love for the North Fork has continued to grow as I’ve met so many inspiring women who are, perhaps at a similar place in their lives now.