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A passion that pays

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 10:35 PM

HUNTINGTON — Kicked back in a comfy sweater with a mug of coffee and a smile, twentysomething Andrew Hankins looks right at home at the Red Caboose Regional Artisan Center and Gift Shop.

And that would be right.

Hankins found Heritage Station and its River and Rail Bakery a couple years ago when he was a Marshall University student desperately seeking good caffeine and Wi-fi, and hasn’t really left.

While he originally came for that daily jolt of caffeine and conversation at the River and Rail Bakery, he’s found himself comfortably in the middle of the local arts/artisan scene as the new manager of the Red Caboose, located inside the Heritage Station building at 210 11th St., Huntington.

Hankins, who has worked at the Red Caboose since last June, became the new manager of the Artisan Center when its founding manager Elaine Whitfield retired in January.

“When I was a student I was in Java Joint every day, and when they closed some friends of mine heard about River and Rail and I knew a number of the people who were working there so I would come over and get my fix here,” Hankins said. “It became a very comfortable place for me, like a public house, just a lot of friendly faces, and a lot of good food and copious amounts of coffee and Wi-fi doesn’t hurt either.”

After a brief stint working for Kim Baker at the Bakery, he got on with the Red Caboose part-time last June, and Hankins, jumped at the chance to help manage the Caboose, which has a wide range of artwork, clothes, jewelry, music, books and crafts from area artisans.

“I’ve felt very fortunate to come into full time hours working for people you admire and respect and in a job that has a lot of personal benefits to it with the community connections,” Hankins said. “I get to be a nice guy all day and get to talk about how cool Huntington is to people who aren’t so familiar to the area.”

For Hankins, an aspiring singer/songwriter and hard-core fan of local music and art, getting to talk about Huntington’s arts, music and crafts culture is an easy, natural thing to do.

Stocked with the works of between 200 and 300 regional artisans, the Red Caboose is a catch all crafts and gift shop that Hankins feels really captures the area’s flavor.

Strolling the store, he quickly reels off just a few of his favorite artists in the store — Kevin Young, a metal smith who does clocks, J. Bird Cremeans’ antique pet portraits and the watercolors of a Marshall history professor Anara Tabyshalieva.

“We have a number of consignment shops in town and they all have different themes and quirks to them,” said Hankins. “I think we are a little more laid back because we can afford to be about how we do business, and I think it is kind of invigorating having this regional artisan position.

Trying to reach out to specific people who do remarkable work that reflects a lot of the appreciation for Huntington and for the Tri-State. At the same time, we have a lot of little things, and knick knacks made by regular folks so it is not an elitist or exclusive thing. It is kind of a fair, and broad representation of the different creative people in town and I like that.”

Hankins, who turns 25 in April, said the Red Caboose has a great setup for the area’s burgeoning number of artisans as they don’t have to rent shelf space and get a 70/30 split with the store.

“If something doesn’t do well or if crafters have a show, they are free to pick up inventory,” Hankins said. “I have worked in retail situations before and it is a really nice setup because it is less about making anyone a whole lot of money and more about just being part of the mix of that welcoming atmosphere that the convention and visitors bureau projects.”

One touch Hankins is putting on the Red Caboose is to build up a full local music section.

A singer/songwriter who often hits open mic nights at Rebels and Redcoats on Thursdays, and who has an occasional gig at Black Sheep Burrito and Brews, Hankins has a basket now with CDs from such artists as The 1937 Flood, Qiet, Deadbeats and Barkers, and Diamond Teeth Mary’s CD.

He’s wanting bands to get in touch with him to get even more CDs so they can do a bigger countertop display.

“I know we have good stuff here,” he said. “Whatever I can do to kind of keep that going and to offer a leg up or a little promotion here that is fine by me. That is kind of paying it forward. I have had a lot of opportunities afforded me by just knowing people in the scene and so I’m just trying to keep it going. I really admire how much work musicians here put in and how much stuff they put out. It’s cool when you go out for a weekend show and the bands coming through might be hit or miss but if they’ve got local opening acts ... they’re always really solid people I am excited to see like Sly Roosevelt, even The Allure, all of those younger guys are a real nice outfit. So you’ve a good mix of all of these people who have been going at it for a while and some just getting their feet wet, but there is a lot of excitement in seeing what kind of fresh entertainment is out there.”

Hankins, whose parents were both Marshall professors, said he feels like Huntington is really having a renaissance with a new generation of creative people sticking around to make changes for the better.

“There are a number of people mostly from the area who sat down roots and who have started things and who continue to do well,” Hankins said. “I always think of Ian Thornton and the Huntington Music and Arts Fest, and the shops here at Heritage Station, and Mayor (Steve) Williams who is so gung ho about fixing a lot of problems that have fallen by the wayside for so long. On top of that you have a lot of young and creative and talented people who are staying in the area for now and being the face of this generation of people who are good at capturing the ups and downs of the Tri-State and just rolling with it.  We are constantly getting rated as the fattest and the saddest and the worst at a lot of things, but you come here (Heritage Station) and talk to the people and so you see what good things there are and it almost seems like a paradox. It really just depends on how you look at it.”

Andrew Thomas Hankins

AGE: 24

FAMILY: The youngest child of Tom and Linda Hankins of Hurricane, W.Va., who have 10 children, 9 of them from previous marriages. “They’ve been married my whole life, so imagine if the Brady Bunch had a baby. I’m that baby,” Hankins said.

EDUCATION: graduated from Hurricane High in 2007 and is now on hiatus after fours years of undergrad history studies at Marshall University

OCCUPATION: Manager of The Red Caboose Regional Artisan Center and Gift Shop (inside the Heritage Station building at 210 11th St., Huntington). Hankins works for the Cabell  Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is also located inside Heritage Station

HOBBIES: When I’m not instagramming my cat, Zipper, or digging through flea market bins full of old vinyl, I like to play guitar, sing songs and drink copious amounts of coffee.

FAVORITE TV SHOW OR MOVIE: Here lately I’ve been all about  HBO’s “True Detective.” 

LAST BOOK READ: Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

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