There is five decades of history among the rows of art supplies and photo frames at the National Art Shop – rows that now bear signs of clearance sale. National Avenue staple food displays are covered with neon “Store Closing” banners.
On April 5, owners Jerry and Jean Sanders announced that the 51-year-old company would close this year to allow them to end their working days. It’s a bittersweet decision and talking about the store closing makes the couple emotional.
“We’re getting older and there are things we want to be able to do while we can, so we decided it was time to close because we had no interest in anyone buying it,” Jean Sanders mentioned.
Jerry founded the shop in 1970 about a mile and a half south of its current location on National Avenue, near the Springfield Art Museum. He said he wanted to give Springfield artists – including his mother, Louise Prater, and aunt, Lucille Hammond – a place to shop. The sisters helped in the shop until 1981.
“At that time, there was no place in Springfield to buy art supplies – we didn’t have any of those great stores,” said Jerry Sanders. “That’s where it started, and it seemed to blossom from there.”
Needing space to grow, Jerry purchased the 6,200 square foot building at 509 S. National Ave. in 1986 – quadrupling the size of the store. The fear of not being able to fill the space quickly vanished as they found themselves expanding their inventory.
Since then, the store has provided art supplies, gift items, and personalized framing for Springfield artists and college students.
One such local artist is Moon City Arts LLC owner Linda Passeri.
“They have been a constant throughout my career as an artist, from the time they started in the little house down the street on National until the time they moved,” Passeri said. “I buy everything I can from them just to make sure I can invest the money in a local business.”
Passeri said the loss of National Art Shop will impact established and up-and-coming professional artists in the region. “They are still the touchstone. I always go to the National Art Shop and find what I need or talk to someone who could give me some great advice, ”Passeri said. “It will be a great void that they leave.”
In a 2010 Springfield Business Journal article, the Sanders talked about growing their website and online sales, which they hoped would increase their income. Over the past decade, the growth of online retail has exploded, particularly in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although they said they were sure some business had been lost to the internet, Jerry and Jean said they had not seen a noticeable drop in sales related to online shopping or the pandemic. , other than the closure for six weeks. The couple declined to disclose the store’s income.
“The thing is, we have the merchandise and if you want it you can come and get it right away,” said Jerry Sanders. “And we do a lot of custom framing, and that’s something you don’t order online. It’s a big part of our business.
Passeri said there’s something about buying art supplies in person that you don’t get online that prompts artists to come.
“When you’re looking for a brush, you want to be able to touch and hold it. When you’re looking for papers, you want to be able to hold them and feel the weight, ”Passeri said. “I think we just took it for granted that they would still be around.”
Although the pandemic has resulted in some business closures due to economic circumstances, the couple said that was not a factor in their decision. Business was going well.
“There comes a time when you have to make that decision, and we just think the time is right to do it,” said Jean Sanders.
“We’re too old to work six days a week,” added Jerry Sanders. “You can’t get (Jean) to quit – he’s a workaholic. The only way to get her to resign is to retire.
Now that the closure announcement has been made, the Sanders are working with RFM Retail Consulting Inc., a firm specializing in promotional sales and exit strategies, to liquidate inventory starting April 8. Original artwork from Jerry’s mother and aunt, as well as furniture and displays, are for sale. They expect to close the final sales and clean the building by early June and at the moment they have no solid plans for the building or property after that.
Their greatest hope is that someone will want to buy it and continue to operate it as an art store. Jerry said they wanted to see the property sold to the right person.
As they prepare to say goodbye, Jerry and Jean Sanders think about the collection of friends they made in the store and saying goodbye to them is what Jean dreads the most.
“We made a lot of good friends,” said Jean, emotion in his voice. “But we will see them around us.”