It’s easy to fantasize about tackling an entirely new career. It’s simple to think about opening a cozy bed and breakfast that overlooks a scenic landscape or retiring to start the fun ice cream shop on a Florida boardwalk.
Plenty of people have the grand aspirations of exiting their daily grind and becoming novice entrepreneurs. Having the aspirations is the easy part. What Catherine Adams ’78 did was not easy; she transformed her reverie into reality.
Adams retired after 25 years of practicing law to open Caterina Ltd. in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood. Within the corner shop, Adams offers unique European housewares, art, and gifts that she hand selects and imports.
“I don’t regret for a minute practicing law,” she said during an interview within her historical, three-story store. “I really enjoyed my practice while I had it, but 25 years was the right amount of time for me. I’m happy to be doing something new.”
Within Caterina, visitors find brightly painted ceramics, one-of-a-kind glassware, jacquard table linens, and unique furniture crafted across Europe. In one corner, basketball-sized, handmade ceramic guinea hens peer onto the cobblestone streets that surround the shop. In another corner visitors can feel the stitching of authentic French table runners.
On any typical day, Adams can be seen arranging displays within the more-than-130-year-old building, shipping to customers across the country, and ordering new products from suppliers. The physical labor – whether climbing ladders or working with repairmen tinkering with a feisty elevator – is a part of the job Adams truly enjoys.
But the routine is far from her successful law practice in Columbus and Washington, D.C.
After graduating from the Ohio State College of Law, Adams clerked for three years for Judge Robert Duncan ’52 of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. She left the clerkship to work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., and returned to Columbus within a year to work for Bricker & Eckler. Her return to Columbus was mostly spurred by her then-future husband, Gregory Lashutka, who would serve as Columbus’ mayor for eight years in the 1990s.
While working at Bricker for four years, Adams expanded her labor and employment practice. She left the firm to take a job as chief counsel to a board member of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.
She would spend the last 17 years of her practice at the Columbus office of Squire Sanders & Dempsey, where she was a partner and head of the labor and employment practice.
But Adams’ passion for European art was instilled long before practicing law. To truly understand Adams’ love for what she sells one would have to peer back to her childhood. From ages 9 to 11, Adams lived in Germany while her father, who in the United States was a Russian History professor, worked for Radio Free Europe. The organization broadcasted uncensored news and information to countries where it wasn’t available.
“We traveled a lot while I was there,” she said. “It was when I really first started to appreciate the quality of European handiwork. I love the Europeans’ sense of living in the present and enjoying the moment. Live well rather than live fast.”
As an undergraduate at Ohio State, Adams majored in international relations and German. While in law school, she hoped to one day practice international law.
It was 22 years ago that the idea for opening her dream store was first instilled. She was with her husband attending an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco. “My husband said that I had to go see this shop because he knew that I would like it,” she said. Within the small store were the similar imported pieces that she now markets. “It was when I first fell in love with the Maiolica technique,” she said. Maiolica is a tin-glazed earthenware often decorated with rich colors.
In 2002, Adams retired from law practice and spent the next six months preparing to open a store within a five-minute walk from her German Village home.
She researched, hired two (which now has expanded to six) part-time employees, and traveled to Italy to find the small companies that could produce the fine ceramic pieces that she hoped to sell.
She said that she was “excited and nervous” when she finally opened the doors to her store in June 2003. “I still feel like I am skiing downhill. But I have always been confident that I could learn what I needed to. That’s one of the great things about a legal education; it gives you the sense that you can figure out what you need to know.”
Adams’ second-floor office is an eclectic blend of her two careers, old and new. Fancy and vibrant art pieces sit near a Columbus Bar Association directory from the last year she practiced law. Her computer’s screen saver flashes pictures of her favorite Maiolica styles. Legal texts have been replaced on Adams’ bookshelves with Italian, Spanish, and French dictionaries, which help her through the e-mails and phone conversations with her suppliers. Calls to Germany are easier; she’s fluent in that language.
Adams travels to Europe about twice a year to meet with her dozens of vendors. She currently buys ceramics from makers in Italy, Poland, Germany, and France, and table linens from companies in Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy.
“In a small way I feel like I’m helping to keep these particular art forms alive,” she said. The mass-produced, less-expensive replicas produced in Asia have forced many of the small, family-run manufacturers out of business, Adams said.
Adams visits with nearly every business from which she imports items. Most of these operations include a handful of relatives working in the same coffee-shop-sized buildings where their ancestors did similar work centuries earlier.
The owner of one company from Deruta, Italy, with whom she contracts recently visited Columbus and Adams’ shop. “He is the 25th generation of his family to make ceramics,” Adams said with continued amazement of the fact.
Her shop welcomes plenty of guests simply meandering through the streets of German Village. The ones that find something they fancy are the ones that return over and over again, Adams said. And the store’s web site is attracting buyers from across the United States.
In late 2006, Adams moved her original shop into the current location on South Third Street. The first floor includes several tables and shelves with colorful and creative displays. The second floor has office-like rooms filled with more merchandise.
On the walls throughout the second and third floors is art created by Columbus-area artists. Adams began displaying works from a handful of artists and this summer is hosting an inaugural juried exhibition of the German Village Art League. Works of 40 different artists are on display for sale within the building.
Adams said she enjoys providing area artists with a place to display their work, a new facet of the business that she never originally expected. It’s easy to see how much Adams enjoys her new career, opportunities, and people she has met.
“I’m not working any fewer hours than I did practicing law,” she said. “I just don’t keep track of them anymore.”
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