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A Clark County entrepreneur is living life in full color at Simply Creative

Shop encourages patrons to explore their creativity through a variety of projects

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April 1, 2024

NEILLSVILLE – Jodi Sampson said she has long lived by the mantra, “everyone has their own style; find it” when it comes to art.

Starting in high school and carrying through to establishing Simply Creative, LLC in Neillsville, Sampson said it has served her well.

“My (high school) art teacher always told me, ‘you’re going to be an artist,’” she said. “She gave me the curriculum for the year, told me to get it done by the end of the year and gave me free reign to do my own style of art.”

Fast forwarding to adulthood, Sampson said her passion for art – whether it be drawing, painting or crafting – only continued to grow.

She said she started out painting houses and creating themed and colorful murals for family and friends.

Word of mouth of her work started to spread, which Sampson said prompted others to reach out to her for her services.

She said she never knew what kind of request she would receive next.

“A lot of people came to me asking, ‘can you do this kind of painting or that kind of painting,’ and I did,” she said.

In 2015, Sampson said she formalized her work launching an LLC out of her home – naming it Simply Creative as a nod to the type of work she did. 

Thirty years later, Sampson said she’s still creating murals in people’s homes – especially in children’s bedrooms – and even in commercial settings, including inside Dixon’s Autumn Harvest Winery in Chippewa Falls. 

As trends changed, customers moved or others simply sought to refresh their space, Sampson said many folks have come back to her for another project.

Sometimes, she said, projects would just appear at her house, be it milk cans or a photo of a cabin to be painted.

“A day or two later, I’d get a message from someone saying, ‘by the way, I dropped this or that off; can you paint it?” she said. “I don’t know that there’s anything I haven’t painted on yet.”

Thanks in part to the encouragement of family and friends, Sampson said she eventually started hosting canvas paint parties out of her garage, at local pubs and at other locations.

Branching out

As she continued to branch out – this time into furniture painting – Sampson said it was clear in 2022 that she had run out of space in her garage, which prompted her to look for a storefront.

“That was the turning point as we didn’t have room in our home anymore,” she said. “I needed everything to be in one location and be easy for people to find me.”

Sampson said she was able to open a Simply Creative storefront in December 2022, thanks in part to a Main Street Bounceback Grant.

Securing a 2,000 square-foot space at 518 Hewett St. Neillsville – which was the long-ago location of a clothing store and later, a jeweler – Sampson said Simply Creative is a vibrant but calming space where she features painting classes amid many of her own works of art. 

“It’s big, and I’m almost out of room again,” she said.

The space, Sampson said, has character, featuring an 1800s-era bar, sofa seating, long tables for painting and more.

She said the vibe is intended to inspire calm and creativity as it draws in patrons of all ages, including groups celebrating birthdays, reunions, retirement parties, showers and more.

The Hewett Street space, Sampson said, can comfortably accommodate 25-30 people.

“People say that it’s so relaxing to come here, and that’s so important, especially in today’s age where everything is fast-paced,” she said.

Sampson said there is no time limit, so people can come in, select an item to paint and devote as much time as needed to their craft.

Among the most popular items, Sampson said, are wood door hangers her husband, Greg, laser cuts for her.

She said they feature a variety of sayings, from a simple “welcome” to “hello, sunshine” to cheekier statements, such as “cluck off.”

“I have at least 50-60 of the door hangers, and they’re very popular,” she said. 

The store, Sampson said, also offers canvases, ceramic pots and rocks for painting.

In all instances, she said she encourages guests to explore their creativity and not worry about differences in final products. 

“Guests may say, ‘but mine doesn’t look like yours,’ and that’s because it’s not supposed to look like mine,” she said. “It’s supposed to be your style and how you see it. Even if I paint this tomorrow, it won’t look like I painted it today, because it’s about feeling. That’s why I want people to leave their worries at the door – everybody needs a place to do that.”

A little bit of everything

Sampson said Simply Creative is open most days, with the exception of Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, unless there’s a special thing going on or she happens to be in the shop on Sundays doing work on a side business.

In addition to herself and the helping hand of her husband, Sampson said she has some volunteer help – including the owners of the building who have pitched in to help run the shop.

“They very much want the town to succeed, and they will do whatever we need to help us out,” she said.

With customers at the forefront of what she offers at Simply Creative, Sampson said she even travels to nearby destinations to host wood painting events for bachelor and bachelorette parties, as well as hosts painting events at a few locations in Marshfield, at wineries and some other summer events.

In addition to art and art classes, she said the shop also offers a variety of boutique’s offerings – including painting, seasonal wind chimes, yard glass, candles, goat milk lotions and soaps, card games, beer bread and brownie mixes, etc.

It also has a bar, Sampson said.

“We have a lot of women who come by after work to meet a girlfriend for a glass of wine,” she said of the five chairs at the bar and pub tables set up in the store. “We can have 10-15 people in here, but it’s not the typical bar atmosphere. You can talk, the music is calm and people can wind down. We’ve even had 20-somethings enjoying wine, saying the place is pretty cool.”

Like many businesses these days, Sampson said she is an avid social media poster – regularly sharing videos and photos of the shop on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

“I try to hit all the (platforms) and am on it a few times every day,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to be in the live videos, and I’ll do it as long as I can get people to see what’s here. That’s big when you live in a small town like this – we try to make people aware of what’s available right here because it’s an hour to Eau Claire and Wausau and even 45 minutes to Marshfield. This is a fun and local option.”

Small business ownership

Sampson said the busiest time at the shop is the months and weeks leading up to Christmas and the slowest is in summer, when most people in the area prefer to be camping and doing other outdoor activities. 

“We (also) see it (busy) in summer on a rainy day,” she said. “The people from the campgrounds come to town to find something to do.”

As a small business owner, Sampson said time management is a skill she has learned over time – “including making space for personal time.”

“I had to learn that it’s okay to take time off and that you’ll have slow days and what to accomplish on those,” she said.

Though she has been open since 2022, Sampson said locals are still discovering the shop as well.

“We have people walk in, after more than a year of being here, mentioning they never noticed it before,” she said. 

Bringing Soldier Home

Sampson said she also uses art as a way to support the community and those who call it home. An example of this is an initiative she calls Bringing Soldier Home – where she coordinates painting classes through which the money earned goes to a soldier in boot camp to fund travel home for the first time.

The idea, Sampson said, was sparked from personal experience with her son who is in the U.S. Army.

She said the family was able to visit him on family weekends, but she recognized how costly that was – especially when he was stationed in Alaska.

Sampson said they neither had the funds to visit him or to fly him home during his leave – she realized others were dealing with similar struggles.

“The ladies who used to come to my house to paint said, ‘why don’t you fundraise? Just do it,’” she said. “And we did. We raised enough to bring him and another kid from the area (who was serving) home (for a visit).”

Sampson said they kept the momentum going, raising funds for several years to contribute to other Wisconsin families’ servicemen and women’s ability to travel back home from bootcamp.

“We didn’t care which branch, as long as it was their first trip home,” she said.

Sampson said families would apply with their story and then share the flight or train number or estimated time they’d travel home, as well as the final cost.

“We haven’t done it since COVID, but we will (again) shortly,” she said. “We’ve done five so far, and each of them gets a T-shirt with their name and where they came from on it.”

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