POCATELLO — In The Woods has a cozy feel when you walk inside. Right inside the front door of the Pocatello shop is a showroom of sorts filled with antique furniture, including radios, a jukebox, tables and desks, and a variety of chairs. There’s even a surfboard standing in the corner, harkening back to the business owner's days as a wave rider. A collection of handmade guitars is carefully displayed on the wall.
The workshop at the back smells of wood and sawdust. It’s filled with various machines and projects in the works — everything from a piano and a jukebox to various chairs and even an old corn husking machine. Pieces of woodworking art hang on the walls, and an old pickup that will hopefully be refurbished one day sits at one side.
At the center of this small universe is Tim Zikratch, a soft-spoken and humble man who tenderly breathes life back into neglected old furniture.
Zikratch has owned and operated In The Woods at 335 E. Lewis St. for 42 years. He says it hasn’t always been easy, but it has been well worth it.
He began his journey in the custom furniture business after obtaining a master’s degree in art from Idaho State University in the late 1970s. His major was ceramics, but he consistently felt drawn to woodworking.
“I threw a lot of pots and stuff, but ceramics was kind of confining to me because you can only get so big,” Zikratch said. “Wood kind of let me get big.”
He wanted to be an art teacher, but there weren’t any jobs available in that field at the time. Instead, he got a job in the woodworking industry at a business that quickly went under. It was then that he decided to strike out on his own.
“I started my own business in ’78 with very little knowledge,” Zikratch said. “I knew the basics of woodworking, but it was basically an on-the-job-training situation. I learned it as I went.”
He says he was pretty good at the woodworking aspect of the business but not so good at handling the more intricate and financial parts.
“I had to learn business on the job, and it’s not something I would recommend to anyone,” Zikratch said. “But in those days, we’re talking 42 years ago, things were a little bit different. You could be kind of a hack and get away with it, honestly. These days are, I’d say, pretty different. So I started the business 42 years ago and kind of hung in there and ended up where I am now.”
At first, Zikratch tried to break into the creative furniture industry, and he saw some success. He showed his pieces in galleries and was featured in several publications. However, even with the success he saw, it was hard to earn a living that way. He called it “a real tough road.” He said he would send his work to galleries and when they’d send it back, all he’d get out of it was another line on his resume.
“Because of family and survival and all that kind of stuff, I recognized pretty quickly that chasing the art dream was (not for) me,” Zikratch said. “I let the gallery thing go for making money. I had to make money and I tried to make that happen within this business.”
So the next step for Zikratch was cabinet-making and making custom furniture — including mantles and entertainment centers. But he soon realized that wasn’t a good fit for him either.
“It’s very hard work and real repetitious, and that wasn’t me,” he said.
He said that industry requires more and bigger machines than the ones he had, and he didn’t want to spend a lot of money on mechanizing his business. Plus, there were several other good cabinet-making shops around at that time, and the competition was tough.
During that time period in the 1980s, Zikratch was refurbishing antiques as well — something he says has always been a passion of his. After the bottom went out on cabinet-making, he fell back on that passion, and that’s what he’s still doing today.
When Zikratch describes his restoration process, it sounds vaguely comparable to a doctor performing surgery.
“Your grandma’s rocking chair, let’s say. It’s been around forever and you want it to quit falling apart and you want it to look better and work,” he said. “I take those things completely apart. All of the joints and stuff, I work on them. I make it so that they fit again, and I glue them back together, and I stain and finish and make them look really nice. But also if somebody just wants me to fix a leg, I can do that and I do that a lot. Restoration to me means really working it over. I’ve done a lot of pianos. I completely tear them apart. It’s a project. Cleaning them inside and out, and then finishing them and putting them all back together.”
Restoring antiques has been a fruitful venture for Zikratch, who says he’s been busy for many years. At one point, he had up to four employees, but he says he trusts his own work more than anyone else’s. Now that he’s the only employee, he says, “I get booked really, really fast and really I’m way behind — six months or better.”
People seem to really love the work he does as well.
One Google reviewer said, “Tim has been doing projects for me for decades. His work is always to perfection. He is never satisfied with 'average,' everything is completed beyond my expectations. For the quality of work he does his prices are more than reasonable. Too bad I can only give him five stars.”
Another said, “Tim has repaired and refinished multiple pieces for us over the years, his work is always perfect and pricing is fair. Plus he's a good guy and we enjoy doing business with him.”
One day in early June, a customer walked into the shop to pick up a chair Zikratch had refurbished. One of the arms had been broken, and the customer thought Zikratch would have to replace both the arms to get them to match. Instead, he managed to fix the broken arm and make it look as good as new.
“Oh my gosh,” the customer said. “I never thought you could do that.”
Zikratch is an exceptionally humble man. Despite his successes and raving reviews, he doesn’t like bragging about himself, and he says he avoids places such as shows where he could exhibit his work.
“I don’t like the focus. I think everybody wants to be recognized and have focus on them, and I’m probably the opposite,” he said. “I think inside you want the recognition, but I don’t like being upfront. … It might come from not wanting to fail. And I don’t like people who are real prideful people. I don’t want to be around them too much, and I don’t want to be one of those people. I kind of hide.”
Zikratch said one of his secrets to staying busy is he charges people a fair price for his work; he hasn’t changed his labor rate in 20 years.
“I love working with people. I love chatting with them,” he said “… I kind of involve myself in their lives a little bit. I enjoy knowing them. I think you just have to be fair and like people, like serving people, and that’s what this is. But I also give way more than I charge for.”
While he feels like his work is worth a lot, he knows some people wouldn’t come to him if he charged more, and he says, “There’s certain things I feel like just need to live on. I’m OK with putting extra time in them.”
He added, “You do not make a lot of money doing what I do. You may like what you do. The people appreciate it. But I don’t feel like you can charge what you’re worth. The knowledge that I have is way more than most people have.”
Zikratch says his wife, an educator who currently works at ISU, has been the primary breadwinner for the family over the years, allowing him to pursue his passion. He says they’ve lived a modest, but good, life.
One of his current passions is making guitars, an instrument he’s played on and off for many years. During an outreach ministry though his church a while back, he was playing for a group of people and suddenly had the thought that he could make a guitar.
He said he has a lot of nice woods he’s collected over the years, and he was also looking for something to get him fired up about woodworking again.
“The learning curve on building a guitar is really big,” Zikratch said. “It was amazing how difficult they are and how much time you put in them.”
He’s since built about 20 guitars, several of which are displayed on the wall of his showroom. Despite the steep learning curve, he says he feels like his skills are now to the point where an experienced guitar player would like to own one of them, though he worries that musicians generally don’t have a lot of money and some of his guitars are on the pricey side.
“Some of them are less expensive than others, but my latest ones I feel like are worth it and I’m not going to give them away,” Zikratch said.
After 42 years, Zikratch is finally transitioning into retirement. The shop is only open three days a week, and much of the In The Woods building is now devoted to Streamline Sports Physical Therapy — a business owned by Zikratch’s daughter, Blaire Zikratch-Clayson.
He had to downsize his space considerably for her to move in, but it was something he was more than happy to do.
“Her thing was my vision,” Zikratch told the East Idaho Business Journal in March for a story about his daughter’s business. “When she first started this profession, I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got the building for you.’ I can’t think of a better thing to do with my building.”
For now, Zikratch is happy to stay semi-retired. He still loves his job, and customers want him to stick around.
“I think what I really appreciate about everything is that now that I’m the age I am I still like doing this stuff, and people still want me to do it,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Don’t retire until you do this for me.’ Through the years, Pocatello is a tough place to make a living. It just really is, and business is really tough in general. Business isn’t for everyone. I many times would have just liked to work for somebody else and taken my check and gone home. But now that I am where I am, 40 years down the road, things are kind of paid off and I don’t have to make a lot of money, and it’s sweet that Blaire has a business that’s growing and the building fits her and it’s going in that direction. … I’m really thrilled to be able to turn this building over to her.”
Looking back on his career, Zikratch said he doesn’t feel successful. When he says that aloud, people always correct him. Being around for as long as he has is a success in and of itself.
“People always remind me that being in business this long and surviving this long is some sort of a success,” Zikratch said. “So I try to look at that, but monetarily, there’s a lot of professions that make a whole lot more than I do. It’s been just brutally difficult to make very much money in this business. … (But) money’s never been a real priority to me. Being happy and contributing and being good to people and serving people is what it’s all about.”
In The Woods is open Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit inthewoods.net or call the shop at 208-233-4003 during business hours.