For the past five years, the universe has done everything it could to thwart the Koplow family’s plans to renovate their pottery and glass studio in Ellicott City.
But on May 11 — after two historic floods that decimated the town, a falling oak tree that poked a hole through the roof and a global pandemic — the ClayGround Studio & Gallery triumphantly reopened.
“Would we have bought the business if we knew everything that was going to happen?” Michael Koplow asked. “Probably, yes, because that’s how crazy we are.”
The Ellicott City couple and their adult son, Matt Koplow, have just completed a $500,000 renovation of the 2,700-square-foot space that opened up both floors of the old stone building.
The first floor contains ClayGround’s gallery, which showcases the creations of about 50 local artists. Visitors can buy a ceramic coffee mug or plant holder, a colored glass picture frame or button-covered mask at prices ranging $15 to about $200.
The second floor contains classrooms for instruction in pottery, fused glass and mosaics and is outfitted with 15 individual pottery wheels. A small room at the top of the stairs houses two kilns for firing pottery.
“ClayGround was too neat a place to stay closed,” Michael said.
The family’s saga began when the first flood ravaged Ellicott City in July 2016. The Koplows bought the business from the previous owner, who elected not to reopen.
“We decided to make a commitment to our family, this business and to Ellicott City,” Ellen Koplow said. “When we jumped in, we jumped in with both feet.”
The second flood roared through Ellicott City in May 2018.
“The town and roads were closed, but we didn’t shut down operations for more than a week,” Michael said. “Our customers who were signed up for classes had to talk their way past police barricades.”
In August 2019, the Koplows bought the 100-year-old building where ClayGround was located. Seven months later, COVID-19 descended on Maryland, shuttering businesses statewide.
And thanks to the oak tree, which fell in August 2020, the roof now includes two skylights.
“We thought, ‘OK, we’ll turn this lemon into lemonade,’ ” Michael said.
Renovations began last November.
“The building was very compartmentalized,” he said. “There was no central air-conditioning system. The pipes were so old they were wrapped with newspapers from 1937. You could peel them off and read an article about the Hindenberg disaster.
“And since one of our principal values is inclusiveness, we wanted to have wheelchair ramps and other things to make ClayGround accessible to people with disabilities.”
Two weeks after ClayGround began welcoming customers once again, psychologist VJ Iannone sat quietly at a table putting finishing touches on a glass pendant.
“It was so hard not to have this place open for more than a year,” she said.
“There is something therapeutic about trying new things, even when you have to struggle a lot. ClayGround is so welcoming. It allows me the freedom to come as I am, to push myself, and to see myself in different ways. "
ClayGround, 3715 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For details, call 443-812-1158 or visit claygroundonline.com