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Say you were putting together a master plan to breathe some life into downtown Charleston. A series of painting and wine sipping classes for mostly (very) amateur artists might not be at the top of your list of things to do.

And yet, almost a decade after Uncork & Create was launched, thousands of art lovers have come through its doors, sharing laughs with friends and family — and adding a sense of vibrancy that’s about to get even bigger, despite its humble beginnings.

“A girl I went to school with, she started a paint-and-sip in Wheeling and I just followed her on Facebook and I was inspired by what she did — it felt like divine inspiration,” said Danielle Snidow, who co-founded the company along with her husband, Larry, back in the summer of 2012.

Even so, she was surprised by how quickly it took off — they didn’t even have a physical location at first. Instead, classes were held at area restaurants and bars.

“We had our first class in July at Little India and it sold out. And we just kept adding classes and they kept selling out,” she said.

She took group photos with painters holding up their surprisingly good works of art at the end of each class.

“Everyone would tag themselves in the photo and that would make the posts spread really quickly and everyone’d be like, ‘Oh, I wanna do that.’ So we moved into our first brick and mortar across from the Quarrier Diner in the Atlas Building in November of 2012,” she said. “It was super fast.”

And it didn’t let up.

They moved a few doors down, added cooking classes and kids’ camps on site and craft cocktail demos held at area bars.

By 2020, Snidow had a new full-time job as deputy director of marketing for the West Virginia Lottery and she was ready for a change. Matt and Nikki Holbert, who own several local businesses including Bricks and Barrels restaurant and Axes and Ales, were interested.

Then COVID hit.

“We didn’t think of anything during Covid ‘cause we were worried about our own businesses and what would happen,” said Nikki Holbert.

The businesses all survived. As vaccines became available, and people began venturing out, they revisited the idea of buying Uncork & Create — with Nikki’s daughter, Ashlie Lewis, as the co-owner and partner.

The sale was finalized earlier this month.

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“It’s just a great opportunity for her. [Her 5-year-old son] Eli loves to paint. He’s just real artsy so it’s just a great opportunity all the way around for our family,” said Nikki.

The timing was right — in part because of some of the hard-earned lessons brought on by the pandemic.

“Covid taught us that we don’t look at each other enough, and we don’t spend enough time together, and we’re really quick to blow each other off, and now, since Covid, we want to spend time with our families and our friends where we used to not do that,” said Ashlie.

“Before, we were just too quick to say, ‘Nah, don’t really want to ... it’s a Friday, I wanna stay home in my pajamas.’ And now we’re excited. ‘Yes! I can put on real pants! I’m excited to go somewhere!’”

The new owners plan to continue the paint and sip classes on weekends. They also plan to add other creative classes, including kids painting and cooking classes, a photography class, wine and cookie pairing and a class on making a grazing board — just in time for holiday parties and gatherings.

“You’re gonna create a charcuterie board, like a grazing board, and we’re gonna do it on the 16-inch party trays from Sam’s. We’ll show you how to put it together and put the lid on it and take it home and it’s enough to feed four-to-six people,” said Nikki. “Then you’ll also leave with a wood board that you can use later on” for creating another elegant party spread.

They’ve applied for an alcohol license that will allow them to sell wine, beer and soft drinks on site, rather than having customers bring their own.

They hope to incorporate popular local chefs into their cooking classes, including Nikki’s son and Ashlie’s brother, Jacob Quick, the former general manager and head chef at Bricks and Barrels, who plans to teach a class on the restaurant’s most popular dish, its butter-basted salmon.

“We’d like to use all local chefs so that’s giving opportunity not only for the chefs to come out and teach the things that they can do, and teach it to our community, but also it’s promoting the other local restaurants in town,” said Nikki.

For Ashlie, it’s about helping to build a downtown Charleston like the one her parents and grandparents remember.

“They tell us what Charleston was when they were growing up and how it was so wonderful to bring their kids down and walk through it and all the little shops, and we would love for my son to be able to have that experience, to be able to come down here and go through all the shops and to pop in here and do a class and pop next door and grab something, go over to Ellen’s, for it to become what it was before, something vibrant and alive,” she said.

“We’ve just realized that during Covid, things that we thought were important just aren’t any more. Social media platforms and Facebook messenger and those sorts of things just don’t mean as much as face-to-face.”

“Day-to-day life became more important because you just don’t know what tomorrow will be,” said Nikki.

For more information on Uncork & Create, visit the company Facebook page or website at uncorkandcreate.com, or call 304-982-1920.

Maria Young is the features editor. She can be reached at 304-348-5115 or maria.young@hdmediallc.com. Follow @mariapyoung on Twitter.

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