Jessica Thomas, owner of Handiwork Studio + Market, is renovating the former video store at Pleasant and Stevens avenues into a place where the community can come together to enjoy locally made crafts. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — A once popular community gathering spot in Deering Center that has sat vacant for more than a year and a half will reopen this spring as a creative arts studio.

Jessica Thomas is launching Handiwork Studio + Market at the corner of Pleasant and Stevens avenues, once the home of a pharmacy and, for nearly 25 years, Jet Video, which also featured an ice cream stand and post office. She sees her shop as a place where the community can come together to work on arts and crafts projects, take classes and purchase locally made goods.

John Thibodeau, president of the Deering Center Neighborhood Association Board of Directors, is happy about Thomas bringing her business to the site.

“It’s one of the central spots in Deering Center and historically has been a gathering space,” he said. “It was a great loss when we lost Jet Video, but I think a lot of people are excited to see new life breathed into the space.”

Thomas, who lives nearby, said the storefront was key in her business plan.

“When I dreamed up the idea of Handiwork, the only place I pictured it going was the Jet Video space. I didn’t think I’d ever get it,” said Thomas, noting that the space had also been eyed by restaurateurs.

Jet Video closed in 2018 after 14 years of operation as a video rental shop, ice cream stand and contract post office. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The back portion of the space will be devoted to classes such as knitting, sewing, drawing , writing and possibly painting.

“I am leaving the door wide open to what sort of (things) happen there. A lot of it will be determined by the interest in the community and who is interested in teaching,” Thomas said.

The front portion, where the ice cream counter once stood, will be retail shop for locally made goods, including mugs, bowls and other items from local ceramic artists, mittens, hats, handcrafted bags and jewelry.

“I hope to bring together a unique blend of things you can’t find anywhere else in Portland,” Thomas said.

The business is a new venture for Thomas, who worked as a librarian for 15 years, locally at Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham, Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook and Portland Public Library, before becoming a postpartum doula and operating Ballast and Buoy.

Thomas said she hopes Handiwork will be a gathering spot for amateur crafters like her who want to hone their skills.

“We won’t be teaching people to be professional crafters,” she said.

She said she hopes to have the business up and running this spring, and she has already begin scheduling classes for May and June in freehand embroidery and hand mending.

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