Tent-Campy Malls and Homes Where Hands-On Owners Can Create Work

In 1980, Jack Glennis and Greg Thomson purchased 4 acres of former federal property in Manassas and built Manassas Treetop, their home for the next 30 years. When the 2002 terrorist attacks happened, they too felt pressure to stay close. “My wife had to feel safe,” Glennis said. “All I had to do was admit that I couldn’t make it a home base. It didn’t make sense. It’s easy to be a little bit on the flip side of that. But it means an awful lot to do something you really have to sacrifice your livelihood to do.”

The studio means staying comfortable but still being forced to leave his equipment for an evening. “If I want to fix something in the studio, I have to make it happen around that soundproof window,” he said. “It’s a financial choice, not a lifestyle choice.” At the end of a work day, Mark Snedden can drift into a dream-y state. On one particular Saturday this year, he said, he was thinking about his daughter and one of his grandchildren while relaxing on a work chair in the middle of the basement where his son and the longtime housekeeper retreated the day before. “It was a good place to be,” Snedden said.

The family genealogy studios run by Sandy Donato, Sandy French and Dave Goodman are a little different. Donato’s grandfather started the family business after World War II and made it their home on a 2-acre lot in Odenton. Later, he moved them a short distance and used the land to churn out garments.

“I grew up around there and remember the smells coming from the boat factory,” French said. “And their customers wanted to call me to get a job.” The family then moved into a two-bedroom house and in the early ’80s decided to move back to Odenton. But they’ve had nothing but more success in Manassas since—a wee bit more cramped but once again with a natural place to live.

“A lot of the same genes that helped my grandmother in making clothing have helped my father,” said Goodman, the grandson of the original family members. He’s out there in the garden with his guys making fleece blankets in the Wintertime and fallacious sweaters and hats in the Springtime.

For Glennis, staying close to home means having access to in-home support and medical care—though it’s difficult. “My wife is a nurse, and we have four kids who range in age from very young to adults,” he said. “So we’re constantly worried.”

So is Jennifer Contant. She and her husband, Will, ran the photography studio and mall work kiosk in Crystal City for 12 years. When Will got sick in 2000, she became the owner. She’s also part of the team that helps her in-home caregiver husband care for him. There are challenges, though—in particular, the emotional moments of going to the gallery on her own. “You’ve got to be strong to do that,” she said.

One of the most challenging things of all, though, is the inconveniences of long hours at home. Goodman won’t let himself hear himself farting out loud at his studio, even though that works better for his visualization. And they both know their rooms need work. The paint job is overdue for a fresh coat of color. A new couch’s needed in the den. All of this, Glennis said, is part of the adventure. “It’s a journey,” he said. “To be up here where you feel safe.”

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