Forever etched

Chicoan pulls himself out of the recession with his engraving business

It’s hard to believe that it’s already almost June. Where, oh where, does the time go? With the new calendar month come wedding bells and the hunt for that perfect gift.

Besides the fact we’re sneaking up on the traditional wedding month, I have nuptials on my mind because this year my baby brother, who lives clear across the country in New York City, is tying the knot. My family and future in-laws are still in the various planning stages—getting measured for bridesmaid dresses, planning wedding showers and arranging airfare —but the buzz is definitely in the air.

The other day I was scanning my brother and future sister-in-law’s wedding registries. They include all the standards: dish sets, living room décor, Kitchen Aid mixer. But they also feature a good number of monogrammed items, everything from bathroom towels to tablecloth and napkins. And I noticed even their wine glasses and champagne flutes say “monogramming available.” Is this a new thing stores are doing?

Of course, personalizing gifts has always been a thing. I have many a memory of going into Things Remembered at the mall when I was younger, picking out something fun and having my mom or dad’s initials engraved on it while having lunch with friends in the food court.

Things Remembered is a fine place to get things engraved, but in thinking about that service, I recalled meeting Stewart O’Marah, who owns Artful Engravings in town, a year or so ago. He was playing pool and had donated an engraved cue ball for an end-of-season prize. Pretty cool—I hadn’t ever thought about engraving something like that.

So, I called up O’Marah to see how his business was doing, and he invited me over to his home, which is also where he does his “artful engravings.” His story is similar to those of so many others who were hit by the Great Recession. He’d been working a good job at Hewlett-Packard, but when 2009 rolled around, he was laid off. He’d studied small-business management in college and had always wanted to open his own business, he said. This might be his opportunity.

“When I first moved to Chico in 1998, I wanted to open a mini-golf course,” he explained. “But FunLand beat me to it.”

Fast forward to 2009 and his plan was to open a comedy club, “but the Last Stand beat me to that.” Finally, while thumbing through a catalogue one day, he settled on engraving. He bought a laser engraving machine, which works with most materials—except metal—and he was able to start his business out of his home, which kept his overhead costs low.

Before too long, O’Marah found himself turning away customers who wanted to have metal engraved. So, he bought a CNC (which stands for computer numerical control) router, which he described as the stick-shift version of the laser engraver. Now he can etch images and text onto just about anything. His most-requested items are glasses, knives and flasks, but he also does things like plaques, trophies and wooden signs. And yes, he gets a lot of orders for wedding gifts, as well.

Log onto to contact O’Marah.