Columbus is packed with crafty creatives who are busy making whistles, cookies, bats, letterpress cards, organic soaps and spirits. They love to share their stories and show people around their successful ventures.
Before you go see them and other local makers though, pick up a Made in Cbus passport from Experience Columbus (www.experiencecolumbus.com). When you buy items from at least four businesses listed in the guide, you’ll receive a Made in Cbus tote to carry them home in.
An all-American whistleblower
A tour of the American Whistle Corporation brings new appreciation for the world’s best hand-held alarm system.
Each year, 10 employees, using equipment that’s part antique, part state-of-the-art, crank out 1 million brass whistles. In business since 1956, American Whistle is the only maker of brass whistles in the United States. Policemen, referees, lifeguards, hunters, hikers and college students are among its customers.
A 45-minute tour covers a lot of ground without much walking. Visitors learn about the whistle’s history, its many uses and the process that turns brass coils into shiny, one-note instruments. At least one trade secret is revealed: How the synthetic cork ball that makes the whistle noise gets inside.
Led by a staff member, tours end with a free American Classic whistle for everyone, a cool deal considering the tour costs only $6. Whistles are also sold at a gift counter. Because American Classics are made of brass, they never rust or wear out, making them gifts that last a lifetime.
Couple cleans up with organic soaps
Wash your hands at North Market, Combustion Brewing, Watershed Kitchen and Bar and many other Columbus businesses, and you’ll get a whiff of what Glenn Avenue Soap Company is up to.
The soap maker was born out of Sandra Metzler’s mission to rid her home of chemicals found in soaps and other products. A mechanical and biomedical engineer, Sandra creates the products; Phil, her husband, is the marketing guru. The company’s “soaphouse” in Grandview is a combination retail shop, laboratory and production facility that welcomes tours and offers classes.
Customers rave about the all-organic, chemical-free products, which use essential oils and even some local beers for fragrance.
During experiential tours, groups blend, pour and cut bar soaps, and for their efforts, receive a bar they helped make. Chances are, they’ll buy other sweet-smelling lotions, bath bombs, body butters, shaving products or perhaps, for summertime, Don’t Bug Me Natural Insect repellent, which smells good to everyone except bugs.
Bat maker’s a hit in the big leagues and beyond
Phoenix Bats has proved you don’t have to wield a Louisville Slugger to make it in the major leagues. Since its bats were approved for professional play in 2000, the company has added pros like Miguel Cabrera to its customer roster.
On a one-hour tour of its plant, visitors can learn why stars from the Little League to the National League opt for this Columbus original.
Founder Charley “Lefty” Trudeau began making bats in the early 1990s for the Muffins, a Columbus vintage baseball team that he played for. The talented woodcrafter made his bats of premium rock maple, yellow birch and northern white ash. Soon, other vintage teams and baseball players at all levels were buying his bats. Many placed custom orders.
Today, a small staff carves out 20,000 bats per year using an Italian lathe that is one of only two like it in the world. Visitors get up close to the production line and see how bats are made, cut, sanded and finished. Everyone, player or not, leaves with a miniature Phoenix bat.
Over a barrel with a trio of distilleries
A cool cocktail on a warm summer day is one way to experience Columbus’s distilling industry.
Afternoon stops at Watershed, High Bank and Middle West distilleries might include a drink crafted from gins, vodkas, bourbons or whiskeys that each is making in its own fashion. In addition to bars, each distillery also has a restaurant, serving anything from light appetizers to main courses; dining spaces might include a patio or a small private room. Tour options vary at each operation. Watershed promises tastes of its spirits, including its first and best known, Four Peel Gin, during its 90-minute tour. Middle West offers $10 tours that tell how it makes gin, vodka, bourbon whiskey and a maple syrup finished in bourbon barrels. High Bank’s whiskey, gin and vodka can be sampled at its perch near the Scioto River.
Put your stamp on letterpress cards
Allison Chapman learned letterpress at her grandfather’s side; it was his hobby and the equipment she inherited from him is the foundation of her Igloo Letterpress in Worthington. As expected, the shop does a big business in custom invitations, but it also welcomes groups for a $10 tour that includes a hands-on experience where they make notecards or coasters to take home.
Even if there’s no time for the workshop, it’s a stop still worth making. The store’s gift shop is stocked with Igloo Letterpress-made notecards, posters, gift tags, bags and other paper items as well as soaps, jewelry and other items by local craftspeople.
A sweet ending to any day
Mrs. Turbo’s Cookies is a dream stop for those with a sweet tooth.
The bakery makes its cookies, brownies, whoopie pies and cakes in small batches daily from scratch. Each generous cookie weighs in at 2.5 to 4 ounces.
The company began after its founder left corporate work and began baking treats for her husband “Turbo,” who loves racecars, and his coworkers. Before long, others were requesting her baked goods and in 2016 Mrs. Turbo opened her bakery, opting for a 1950s style diner feel, complete with a pin-up girl style logo. Late last year she added a second location to the business, which is 100 percent female-owned and operated.
Groups can stop in for a “happy hour” of milk and salted caramel chocolate chip cookies or arrange for a special event like decorating cookies, adding cream filling to Whoopie pies — cleverly called Making Whoopie Pies — or at the holidays, making gingerbread houses.
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