Bucking the trend in Cape Breton

Elizabeth Patterson, The Cape Breton Post
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Not everyone's heading West for work

NEW WATERFORD — Cape Bretoners may be headingWest to work but Mike and Karen Baran left Calgary so they could make their living in Cape Breton.

Mike Baran takes pieces of sea glass and turns them into pieces of jewelry and unique sculptures.

Yes, you read that right.

 

Mike Baran was managing a neighbourhood pub in Calgary more than six years ago where he kept hearing about a magical spot on Canada's East Coast.

"We met so many people who were from Glace Bay and New Waterford who were like, 'I just sold my house and took a $300,000 mortgage in Calgary — you should check Cape Breton out.' So we actually got on the Greyhound bus and we drove across Canada.

"We got a 30-day pass and then we went back to Calgary. We sold our house right away and we moved here — didn't know anyone. And it's been just paradise."

So much so, other members of his Calgary family have also moved to New Waterford, buying the house next to his so they can spend more time with their grandchildren. And just in case you're wondering, the Barans aren't running a high-tech company or a traditional bricks-and-mortar business. They just find new uses for a substance that washes ashore every day on beaches across the island.

"We kinda started our business by accident," he remembers. "We were just walking on the shoreline out here and we started picking up sea glass. We did a bit of research and found out there was some good value in it, so we started selling it to jewellers all over the world and then became the jewellers ourselves."

Unknown to them and probably most people, good quality sea glass is in high demand around the world. The first item they sold on EBay, a black sea glass marble, sold for $36 after it was initially listed for 99 cents.

Today, Baran or his wife Karen can be found at various craft shows throughout the year and during the summer at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavillion on the days cruise ships visit. He's still regretting the first piece he found, before he knew what it could be worth.

"I found a lip of a bottle and it was all frosty and I threw it back into the ocean," he recalls. "Then I went on the Internet and saw they were selling for $15 and I went back looking for it but I never found it."

Needless to say, he doesn't throw any sea glass away now. Instead, many pieces are wholesaled and some are turned into individual pieces of jewelry, glass pictures and 3-D sculptures. The business is a team effort with both finding the sea glass together, he drills and she does the settings on the jewelry. While one sells at craft shows, the other looks after their children. Somehow, it's all coming together to give them a living while having the lifestyle they desire.

"It's really great since we came from away and we didn't know what we were doing and kind of created a job," said Mike Baran. "The money we make is pretty much all U.S. dollars which is part of this economy — we didn't even know what was happening out here in all truthfulness, we just knew we were coming to a place where you could get a house for $30,000.

"I wouldn't want to trade it for anything else."

Organizations: EBay

Geographic location: Calgary, Cape Breton, Canada New Waterford East Coast Glace Bay U.S.

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