Happy endings: finding love in family, community and history

For Katherine Birkbeck, it was love at first sight.

She is the new owner of a piece of history on Market Street. Her shop, Spindle Tree, is a photography studio and event center located at 303 Market St., a storefront built in the 1930s.

It was home to a number of different restaurants over the past decade, and was Diane’s hair salon prior to that. The building itself belonged to Jane Holt, who operated Allee Antiques next door and now runs Clinch River Mercantile on the other side of the train tracks.

“When Jay and I first got married, I’d walk down the street in places like Atlanta and say, ‘I want to one day own a storefront,’” Katherine recalled.

But she didn’t think that dream would become a reality so quickly.

It all started when she was asked by Clinton Elementary principal Jenna Sharp to take some black and white pictures for the school’s conference room and Sharp’s personal office. Katherine’s twins — a girl and a boy — had just started Kindergarten at the school. She wandered around downtown Clinton taking pictures and saw the corner building for sale.

“I looked in and peered through the windows,” she said. “I could see what it was, and what I knew it could one day be.”

She took a picture of the phone number, but didn’t say anything to her husband about it for a few days.

But she couldn’t shake it.

She finally brought it up to Jay, acknowledging that it was probably a pipe dream.

“It was a crazy time for us,” she said.

They had just bought a house and were busy with two active kids.

“He surprised me and said it could make a lot of sense for us,” she said.

So they started asking questions. And they liked all the answers.

“I love this community and I love what the Anderson County Chamber is doing to build up this community,” Katherine said. “I wanted to do that as well. I grew up here in Clinton, and in middle school we would walk over to Hoskins and get a milkshake. I envision my kids doing that — getting a milkshake and coming on over to the studio.”

They purchased the building and got started on renovations quickly, hiring Clinton High alumni Sean Brown to do the work through Henson Construction.

“He’s someone who really cares about seeing Clinton develop, and they did an amazing job,” Katherine said.

It is a photography studio now, but it’s also an event center. Multiple events are already scheduled over the next few months, and she’s dreaming of creating a little gathering space in the alley between her store and the building next door. It can be rented out for rehearsal dinners, bridal or baby showers and birthdays.

It’s a love story on multiple fronts — love for the new building; between Jay and Katherine, who are the perfect team of dreamer and realist; and a genuine, deeply felt love for their community.

Katherine has been a photographer for almost as long as she and Jay have been married, which is coming up on 15 years in July. Jay is a Wells Fargo financial advisor and helps her keep up with the more mundane side of running a business.

“I give a lot of credit to my husband, who isn’t afraid to be left alone on a Saturday when I’m off shooting a wedding,” she said. “We’re a good pair. I’m the dreamer in the relationship and he’s the realist. He lets me dream a lot and he’s always supported everything I want to do. Most everybody will see me with the Spindle Tree, but he’s such a big part of it behind the scenes.”

The name of the store is very personal for Katherine. She went to Young Life as a teen in Clinton, and a singer named Ryan Long performed a song he had written called Spindle Tree. Her father, Ray Oliver, was a teacher at Clinton High School, and he taught a creative writing class. She told him about Long and the song that inspired her, and he invited Long to come speak to his class. Long story short, Long was the one that inspired Oliver in 2011 to write the book about Freddie Fagan, a much-loved Clinton resident.

Two lines stood out to Birkbeck from the song: “I’m leaning into you as you’re leaning back into me,” and “As we walk and talk and dream we’re seeing a picture of things that too seldom see.”

The first is something that she feels about the City of Clinton.

“I want to do what I can to improve the city and I need it to come back to me, too,” she said.

As for the other line:

“I see people as they are, and I see that they’re beautiful,” she said. “I want to make them feel beautiful.”