Oneonta’s only art supply store will close later this month after more than four decades in business.
“We are very sad to hear that Artware is going to close,” said Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig. “We have a vibrant artist community here, and this store meant a lot to a lot of people.”
“It seems like retirement isn’t such a bad idea,” said store owner Betsy Westad Cunningham, who turns 85 this spring.
Cunningham said the decision was made largely due to the pending sale of the building at the end of the month. She could have maintained the store, but “at this age I think it’s reasonable.”
“I just thought maybe it was about time,” she said. “Maybe I can go back to the studio. Owning an art store is great, but the irony is that once you have all the stuff you don’t have as much time to do anything with it.
Cunningham started the business in 1980 from her Davenport home, moving first to Dietz Street and then to Main Street in 1984. She said she was not intimidated by the competition Walmart brought in there. 25 years old and survived another Southside craft store before that.
“We found a niche and it worked,” Cunningham said.
At first, she said, she teamed up with teachers from local colleges and prepared kits of supplies for the classes.
“That was before it was all so computerized and there was Amazon and all that stuff. Brick and mortar is getting obsolete,” Cunningham said. “At this point, there’s really no need to go. at the storefront to buy art supplies It’s easier for people to shop online, but they don’t necessarily get the information from a place like this.
Longtime artist and part-time Otego resident Roberta Griffith, who chaired the art department at Hartwick College for 17 years, said Cunningham’s resources and expertise have been invaluable to her as as a teacher and artist.
“She’s been the backbone of downtown traders for years,” Griffith said. “I was so thrilled when she opened the store. His retirement is well deserved, but it is a devastating loss for the community.
Griffith, who has created art across the country and around the world as a Fulbright Fellow, said Artware is “one of the best art stores I’ve been to.”
“Whenever I need a little thing, they have all the odds and ends,” she said. “Betsy’s framing skills are second to none. I frantically framed things before she closed – I don’t care what that costs. Betsy is worth every penny.
Cunningham said she enjoys being able to answer questions, make recommendations and offer advice in day-to-day interactions with her clients, some of whom have frequented the company since it opened.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Zanna McKay, a resident of Oneonta, who came in search of a rug for a family wedding photo on Thursday.
“You have truly been a beacon in this town,” said another grateful customer who came to wish Cunningham a happy retirement.
Originally from Scotland, Cunningham studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and earned his Masters in Painting from Ohio University, studying “pieces here and there” since then.
Cunningham said she taught at Schenectady Public School before moving to Oneonta with her family. Her sons, Gunnard and Ian, are “extraordinarily creative,” she said, noting that Ian works in industrial design.
“It’s a very active field for the arts,” Cunningham said. “It was an exciting thing. The people who come here and have always been here are just nice people to meet and get to know. It’s a good race.
“Obviously, they’ve been a very important part of Main Street since even before we got here,” said Deborah Blake, director and general manager of the Craftsmen Guild. “The people are lovely and the store itself is full of surprises around every corner.”
With just four storefronts between Artware and the Craftsmen’s Guild, Blake said Main Street shoppers would often confuse the former with the latter, but merchant-artists were always happy to point them in the right direction.
“This friendly confusion will definitely be missed,” said Blake. “The Craftsmen’s Guild won’t be the same place without Artware nearby. “
Like its downtown neighbors, the store’s sales have taken a hit amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cunningham said. While staying home in quarantine may have fostered creativity for some, Artware hasn’t seen a boost in business.
“I can see this happening, but because of COVID more people were buying online than walking into a storefront,” Cunningham said. “I can’t say it was good for business.”
Retired, Cunningham said she intended to go back to her roots in painting and ceramics and create simply for the sake of creating.
“It’s for my own satisfaction now,” Cunningham said.
Artware of Oneonta is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday until February 19. Art supplies are 20% off and custom framing orders are no longer accepted.
For more information, visit artwareofoneonta.com or call 607-432-0679.
Sarah Eames, Editor-in-Chief, can be reached at [email protected] or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.