In Tucson Stained Glass, bright glass items hang from the ceiling. The front windows display stained glass projects previous students and artists have completed, no one similar to any other. There are birds, cacti, animals, flowers, and kitchenware. Shelves of multicolored glass plates line the store, flanked by glassmaking supplies and equipment. And in the rear, a kiln and many work tables are laid out, with people hard at work on their next stained glass projects. This is the store Estelle Flores has created.
“All the tools and equipment are here for people to work on their projects, and do whatever they need to do to get done,” she said.
The shop, located at 4444 E. Grant Road in Tucson’s Garden District, is involved in more than just the sale of stained glass. The store offers many classes, and even does out of shop work on buildings around Tucson.
“We have done some church restoration, many years ago we did four very large stained glass windows for Valencia Middle School, for their library,” Flores said. They have also worked on many homes in Tucson.
Flores has been interested in stained glass for decades, and the shop was born out of her passion.
“Stained glass I got into back in 1985, very haphazardly through some friends that I knew at the time,” Flores said. She took a free class and fell in love with the art.
She said she was unable to devote much of her time to stained glass until she started working at another shop in Tucson. Partnering with another stained glass shop owner who has since retired, they opened Tucson Stained Glass in 2005.
The classes the shop offers are intended to teach many levels of making stained glass. The shop even offers a free glass cutting class to get people started. “Within two hours, you’re gonna know all the nuances you need to know,” Flores said.
In the free class, students will learn about different methods of glass cutting, curves, how to plan patterns, as well as time saving techniques.
“Once you do that, go into whatever aspect of glass one wants to go into.” she said. “You are ready. You’ve got the fundamentals, and you’ve got the main arsenal of tools you need to do whatever else it is you want to do”.
Her son, Adrian Flores, learned the skill from her, and has learned a lot from being in the shop himself.
“Growing up as a kid, I would just watch her doing her custom work,” he said.
After watching his mother, he would experiment with stained glass, and work on small projects. He said his mother taught him how to cut glass, and do his own work. While he was in school, he helped his mother in the shop on Saturdays.
Once the shop opened, he said he was able to start doing bigger projects, like custom work.
“I enjoy it. Nothing is quite the same with the repair work that comes through the door,” he said. “It’s hard to tell what you’re going to run into on that aspect, but it’s nice to start out fresh from a new, clean slate, as far as somebody wanting custom work.”
Flores says his previous experience in trade school has helped him very much with working in the shop. He also has a background with architecture, which allows him to provide further information to students and customers.
Flores noted that although he enjoys working in stained glass, challenges lie ahead for the business.
“There’s not many glass stores left in Tucson. There’s only two of us, actual retail stores, in Tucson, and the other is on its way out,” he said.
Times are tough outside of he retail stores as well: Flores said the distributor that provided 90 percent of Tucson Stained Glass’ stock recently closed and transferred its operations to another business.
“We’re having to transfer into other manufacturers,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to just survive solely off of retail.”
Classes and people who take up stained glass as a hobby help keep the business afloat, he said. The business also greatly benefits glassworkers in Tucson by giving them a place to directly buy materials, instead of having to buy their materials online.