art on broad glass

Sisters propel two downtown businesses

(Featured photo is of the blown glass display at Art on Broad. Courtesy Art on Broad Facebook page)

The 1000 block of Broad Street is rich with sisterly love as two sets of sisters operate businesses practically next door to each other.

And both sets of sisters insist they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“She’s the only one I’d be able to do this with,” said Brianne Martin of her sister Danielle Harmadi. The two own and operate Freshwater Design Co., at 1022 Broad St. “We both listen to each other. We have the same brain, but we’re very different.”

Two doors down from Freshwater, which sells home décor and gift items as well as creating signature leather products, is Art on Broad, 1016 Broad St., where another set of sisters, Kristin Varn and Catherine Alexander, work together in a longtime downtown staple.

“We are so alike. If we need to give the other a breather, we know it,” said Alexander who joined her sister full time four years ago. Even though they work together all week, they often spend days off together.

Art on Broad sells an array of items created by about 80 area artists and a few from the region. In addition to the pottery, paintings, jewelry and other items, Varn and Alexander offer framing services.

Art on Broad open since 1990s

Art on Broad has its roots in another shop that started in the 1990s. Varn was a graphic designer who made jewelry on the side. She started working at the Augusta Art Exchange which was located in one of the buildings on Eighth Street at Riverwalk. Being able to sell her items as well as other artists’ wares drew her in.

 “I worked to acquire ownership in it,” she said.

Kristin Varn and Catherine Alexander are sisters who work together at Art on Broad. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

By 1997, the rent had tripled, and Broad Street looked like a better fit. Artists’ Row was flourishing at the time, and it was the place to be, so the business moved.

In 2001, Varn’s husband, Jim Tar, who’d worked at the Morris Museum of Art, joined her in the business which they renamed Art on Broad.

 Alexander said the business became a lifeline for her sister when Tar died in 2014. For Varn, the few years after his death are a blur, but Alexander remembers the sisters’ nightly phone calls. She also recalls how Varn’s relationship with employee and friend, the late Veronique Lyle Thurmond, also known as “V,” as well as their longtime customers, sustained Varn during the day.

“This place is what kept her going,” Alexander said.

It was during that time that the idea of Alexander coming to work with Varn surfaced. They’d worked together at times and the two attended framing school together. Until 2019, Alexander worked in a high stress retail environment.

Framing makes up about 50% of Art on Broad’s business. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Now they both do framing, but they split other tasks.

After years at 1028 Broad St., Varn and Alexander moved Art on Broad moved to its current location in October 2021. It offers 1,000 additional square feet and lofty ceilings with a majestic skylight. The additional space allowed them to bring in several more artists, but Varn said there’s always room for more.

“If you do something amazingly different, and we don’t have anything like it, we’ll make room. We’re never full,” she said.

They hope to soon add small events such as artist receptions back into the mix.

The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. It’s supposed to be closed on Mondays, but most of the time, Varn and Alexander are usually inside working and chatting with each other. And if that’s the case, they often let customers come in.

Freshwater Design Co. started in Harmadi’s house

Harmadi and Martin started working together several years before they opened a Broad Street storefront in 2021. They were looking for ways to make extra money so they could travel more.

By the time they moved to Broad Street, the sisters were using about four rooms in Harmadi’s house to perform all aspects of their business. They’d often travel to craft shows to sell what they’d made.

For the first several months on Broad Street, they didn’t have a retail space which was fine with them. It was still during the pandemic and virtual sales were reigning because some people were still hesitant about venturing out.

Danielle Harmadi and Brianne Martin operate Freshwater Design Co. Charmain Z Brackett/Augusta Good News

The store was initially used as a production facility to stock an online business. But as the pandemic waned, the retail portion opened, and the inventory evolved.

 Early products included wood-burned signs and leather items such as passport covers, luggage tags and key fobs with retro hotel designs.  Also, they made leather earrings, bracelets and leather-wrapped candles.

Martin said the product line is continuing to evolve. The sisters were hush-hush on specifics, but they plan to offer more gift items just in time for the holidays. They recently launched their signature candle — a blend of coconut, cactus rose and leather.

 “It captured the scent of our studio and the beach. It’s inspired by the waves,” she said.

Harmadi said there’s also a “fun dog section.”

They also have products from other women-owned businesses as well as mission-minded businesses.

Freshwater’s new signature scented candle. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

 Not only is the product line evolving, but the company recently upgraded its website.

Moving to a brick-and-mortar was a game changer for the sisters, propelling their business more than they could’ve imagined. They couldn’t be any happier that they chose downtown Augusta to operate in.

Harmadi said they like their neighbors and often refer customers to Art on Broad (as well as others) and vice versa.

 “There are other cool stores down here,” she said. “It’s a great little shopping block.”

Martin only has one lament.

“If we could get downtown to be known for shopping and not just restaurants,” said Martin.

Freshwater Design Co. is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Harmadi said they have a warehouse sales event coming up Arts in the Heart weekend, where they will not only mark down merchandise to make way for new holiday arrivals, but will have other items such as leather remnants that crafters might be interested in.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you

Support Local Journalism

Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That's the focus of Augusta Good News, a member of the Georgia Press Association. And you don't have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn't have celebrity reporters who have agents. It's local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift.

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