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ITHACA, NY -- Ithaca institution 15 Steps is looking to bring something a little bit different to downtown — an experiential retail environment. The store recently celebrated the opening of its educational space in the back of its Center Ithaca storefront.

“We always wanted to have an educational component,” the store’s general manager Scott Dolphin said. “It’s something fun to do on the Commons, other than retail, restaurants and head shops.”

The class schedule stays true to the handmade ethos of 15 Steps, featuring things like cooking lessons, soap making, acrylic painting, crocheting and cake decorating.

“We’ve already had a couple of Italian cooking classes in here which were extremely successful,” Dolphin said. “Classes have been selling out almost as soon as we put them up […] The response has been really great.”

With a master’s in education, Dolphin describes himself as “fairly hooked up” in terms of educators, so once word got out about what 15 Steps was hoping to accomplish, a lot of local craft and cooking teachers have approached him about teaching a class.

“It’s just been a matter of working with everyone’s now booming summer schedules to get it off the ground,” he said.

The classroom occupies the space that used to be the Community Art Partnership offices, and Dolphin said they were “approaching a trigger pull” to renovate the area in January or February of 2020.

“It’s always been a target goal,” he said. “It was about finding the right opportunity and right space.”

Dolphin had some traveling to do in February and early March that year, and then when he returned everything shut down due to COVID-19, putting things on pause until June 2020. 

“We did see signs of life,” he said. “Once we got past the initial shutdown and the weather changed, masked people started coming back out again and there was clearly enough community support and encouragement.”

Dolphin said he knew the pandemic wouldn’t last forever, but said the scary part was not knowing how long they’d have to weather the shutdown.

“It turned out to be longer than we expected,” he said.

With some money from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, 15 Steps was able to complete the renovation to put in kitchen islands, buy racks of equipment, and take care of some of the less exciting logistical requirements like sprinklers.

“We shopped really hard,” Dolphin laughed. “Most of it came from local suppliers. We’re not completely there yet.”

The upcoming schedule for the educational space can be found online atwww.fifteensteps.com. And if you’ve got a teachable skill, Dolphin would love to hear about it.

“I’m always on the lookout for someone with something fun or interesting to do,” he said. “If you have something you have experience teaching, come talk to me.”

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