FAIR HAVEN — Josh Sanders is a small-business owner — literally.
Every day, he wakes up at 6 a.m., packs his puppy, Tennessee, in his Toyota Prius and heads to work at Sterling Custom Canvas, housed in his brother-in-law's 400-square-foot garage in the village of Fair Haven. But soon, Sanders and Tennessee will have more room, as Sanders will move his business into a space nearly 10 times the size of his current workshop.
The new shop will be located at 14463 Meade St. in Fair Haven in a former auto body shop. Sanders said he is waiting for the sale to officially close and plans to move into the new space within the next month or two.
Sanders opened Sterling Custom Canvas in 2015, but has a long family history in the canvas industry. His grandfather Cecil Ramsey and father, Dan Sanders, both worked for Rogers Canvas in Syracuse in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in the mid-'70s, they took over the business and renamed it The Canvas Shop. After many successful years, the business went dormant until Sanders took it over in 2002. However, he was not making enough money and had to abandon the business three years later for more stable work, though he still did some canvas projects on the side as a hobby.
A former financial consultant, Sanders never intended for Sterling Custom Canvas to become his full-time job. In August 2015, a friend asked if Sanders could make him a boat cover. Sanders said yes, but he needed more space for such a large project. So he asked his brother-in-law if he could borrow his garage for a little while. His brother-in-law said yes and convinced him to put an ad on Facebook and Craigslist and turn his hobby into a part-time business on the weekends. Within two weeks, Sanders said he had booked enough work to keep himself busy for an entire month's worth of weekends. In October, he quit his full-time job.
"I've never had another job — and I've done a lot of jobs — that makes me get out of bed in the morning like this one does," he said.
Sanders said his favorite part about his job is the challenge of it.
"I sculpt with material, I sculpt with canvas," he said. "I feel like I'm more of an artisan than a laborer. It doesn't feel like labor to me. It's passion. If you really love what you do, you want to be challenged."
While Sanders mostly works with marine canvas and marine upholstery, he said he is pretty much "open to anything." In the past he has worked with construction and farm equipment, furniture, cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles.
"Anything we can stitch, we'll do," Sanders said. "I've done everything from sewing a patch on a leather vest to building a 20-foot by 80-foot party tent."
Sanders said his new workshop will allow him to take on new projects and continue to challenge himself. He hopes to be able to hire some help in the future now that he has the space.
"I want to build this to something that has a reputation that goes beyond the village limits," he said. "And I hope that it kind of does already. But I see a big future for this shop."