George and Judy Dick may be the most entrepreneurial minded people I have ever met, and I come from a family with a long history of self-employment. I mean, who looks at alpaca poo and says. “we should start roasting our own coffee and call it Alpaca Beans?”
George is retired from the UGA Carl Vinson Institute and Judy is a retired teacher of hearing impaired students. On day, about 16 years ago, Judy saw an ad for Alpacas on HGTV. At the time, Alpacas was a business for those with solid funding as at the cost of breeding was very high. In 2003, the Jobs and Growth Tax relief act provided a hefty tax incentive of up to 100% of the breeding stock cost. Breeding stock was selling for $25,000 and even up to $750,000 at auction. Billed as “the investment you can hug,” Alpacas surged from around 2,000 in 1991 to over 86,000 in 2006, including the Dick’s herd. After the recession in 2008, the alpaca market collapsed and like many other markets are making their way back.
Alpaca fur is generally know for its high quality, cashmere like softness. The top quality fiber can sell for $300 a
lb. Other uses aside from clothing is for insulation and to strengthen asphalt. In the Gulf oil spill (Horizon) in 2018, those charged with cleaning up the oil were asking for hair from beauty parlors and barbershops to use to soak up the viscous material. Because Alpaca fiber is hollow, its absorption of oil was so much better than any other material, the demand started to grow.
The other quality of alpaca fiber that makes it so highly prized is its strength and lightness. It is 3 times more insulating than wool and 1/3 the weight, making it truly light-weight warmth. Unlike wool and other fibers, alpaca does not have lanolin which makes it also hypoallergenic. In the south, there is less demand for warm, woolens, so the Dicks are working with others in the industry to blend alpaca’s best qualities with that of pima cotton to make a light weight fabric suited to our warmer climate. In fact, at the Dick’s retail store, you can find beautiful light-weight knitted sweaters that were created with a 3-d printer.
For the Dicks, alpacas provide more than fiber. Alpaca poop (sorry) is called beans. The Dicks were friends with Jittery Joe’s founders so they learned at the steady hand of head roaster, Charlie Mustard. A national taste test followed and the coffee roasting business began with beans from Peru and Bolivia (also the two best know countries for Alpacas). Today, they ship all over the world as well as their retail operations in Lavonia.
In 2015, the Dicks decided to open a store front in 2015 with much skepticism from locals. Last Fall, the store had another reopening after extensive renovation of the centuries old flooring of the building. The store feature high quality yarns and clothing and in the back, coffee and a wine tasting room. Why wine? Well, ever the entrepreneurial dreamers, the Dicks worked with local winery Boutier to create wines infused with coffee! In addition to the coffee infused specialty wines, Crane Creek, 12 Spies and Sweet Acre Farms wines are available to try as well as purchase.
There is an extensive calendar of knitting and weaving classes offered in store as well as other events. Come join Southern Alpaca and explore the wonderful world of Alpacas and the amazing creativity of the George and Judy, and their daughter Dawn.