This story originally appeared in the February 1993 issue of Peninsula People, a regional publication printed for distribution in Hancock
Dave Walli’s varied career path has taken him in many directions but one job- barbering- prepared him for his current business as a snow scoop manufacturer and designer of copper art.
“The clipper and the comb are in the same position as the brazing rod and the torch,” says former barber Dave Walli. “I was practicing brazing for all those years and didn’t know it.”
Walli and his wife, Gloria, both Copper Country natives, are the owners of Copper Art on Fifth Street in Calumet. They began their business in 1976, working out of their home in Laurium and moved the business to their current location in 1982. The building also houses the couple’s “sideline” business – Silver Bear Products – so named because the snow scoops they manufacture are made of steel and work like a bear. “Copper is our thing,” said Dave, “but the snow scoops fill the gap in the off season.”
According to Dave, he’s produced 10,000 snow scoops with an all-time high of 2,200 “one year when we had a lot of snow.” What year that was he- couldn’t recall, but most Copper Country winters have accumulations of at least 150 inches.
The scoops, which retail for $28.25 to $34.75 are available in three sizes and feature one-inch or three-quarter inch diameter handles with a built-in height adjustment. Dave wholesales the scoops to Kmart, Holiday and Pamida stores in the Upper Peninsula. He’s also shipped snow scoops to a ski resort in Montana and fills orders from former U.P. residents who know the value of a snow scoop.
And though snow scoops have been around since the 1920’s, Dave claims he has built “the better mouse trap.” “Our scoop features a kick bar/plate on the back. It always has, otherwise it would have been just another snow scoop,” says Dave. The scoop, which also has a 16-gauge front edge, is designed for snow removal “not firewood retrieval,” Dave notes. “You can always tell when someone’s been improvising with their scoop. They’ll bring it into the shop for a repair and it has all kinds of dings and dents in it. That’s a sure sign of someone hauling wood or using it as a sled, which it is not.”
At this point, Dave took us outside for a demonstration. “You see, it’s really very simple. You push the scoop into the snow, and lift from the…” We thought the sight of a shop owner scooping snow on the sidewalk was so interesting, we missed the instructions. Needless to say, when I got home that night and it was my turn to clean the driveway, I wondered if l was maneuvering the lightweight Silver Bear scoop in the proper manner. Actually, Dave says even if you are a bit awkward with the scoop, it still does the job. “It’s not the back breaker that shoveling snow is and it doesn’t require any oil, gas or additional attachments,” says Dave. Good point.
“We did consider putting one ounce of oatmeal in a package and attach it with a ribbon to the handle and advertise it as a one-time starter on the scoop,” laughs Dave. “I still think it would be a good idea.”
Obviously, the Walli’s enjoy their business, rather businesses, because their copper art is an integral part of the family’s livelihood.
“We could make any number of scoops but the copper keeps us busy from May until October and then we’re making scoops all the time,” says Dave. “To make copper art you need skill, patience and desire because our copper art is not mass produced.”
During a tour of the Walli’s production area, Dave points out several dies he has made including one for thimbleberries surrounded by leaves. Sheets of 16, 22, and 24-gauge steel are stacked along one wall. Various pieces of machinery, including a Pittsburgh Lock Machine for shaping sheets of metal, occupy the back room and the basement of the Walli’s shop. “I’ve picked my equipment up piece by piece,” says Dave. “If I had to go out and buy it all at one time I’d really feel the bite, but going to auctions and word of mouth was how I obtained most of it.”
Through the years, Dave says he and his family have come to realize that it is best to have fun while working. “I didn’t want a job that I dreaded going into. I wanted to feel good and have our customers feel good too,” said Dave. “We had demonstrations here last year in the shop, and the people just really enjoyed that. I think we’ll do more of that because it gets us involved with the customers and they get an understanding of what goes into the creation of copper art.”
Though the Walli’s produce a variety of copper art, they also handle commission work. One of Dave’s most recent projects was copper countertops for his daughter’s pastry shop. Though the most popular copper art at the Walli’s shop are angels and hummingbirds, a large variety of flowers, birds, buildings, jewelry, books, and photographs are on display as well.
Copper Art is located at 111 Fifth Street in Calumet, home of the nation’s newest national park! The shop is open year-round and Dave will be glad to show you how to operate a snow scoop. Gloria, who is a bit shy, is always on hand to help with your copper gift selections.