The Oneonta art store will close its doors after 40 years | Local News

Oneonta’s only art supply store is closing later this month after more than four decades in business.

“We are very sad to learn that Artware is closing,” 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 might not be 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 impending sale of the building at the end of the month. She could have run the store, but “at that age, I think that’s reasonable”.

“I just thought maybe it was 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 everything, you don’t have as much time to do anything with it.

Cunningham started the business in 1980 from her home in Davenport, moving first to Dietz Street and then to Main Street in 1984. She said she wasn’t intimidated by the competition Walmart had started there. 25 years old and had survived another Southside craft store before that.

“We found a niche and it worked,” Cunningham said.

At first, she said, she teamed up with professors from local colleges and prepared supply kits for classes.

“That was before everything was so computerized and there was Amazon and all that stuff. Brick and mortar is becoming obsolete,” Cunningham said. 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 served as chair of the art department at Hartwick College for 17 years, said Cunningham’s resources and expertise have been invaluable to her as a teacher and as an artist.

“She was the backbone of downtown merchants for years,” Griffith said. “I was so thrilled when she opened the store. Her retirement is well deserved, but it’s a devastating loss to the community.

Griffith, who has created art across the country and around the world as a Fulbright Scholar, said Artware is “one of the best art stores I’ve been to.”

“Whenever I need a little thing, they have all the bric-a-brac,” she said. “Betsy’s framing skills are second to none. I frantically had things framed before she closed – I don’t care what it 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 customers, some of whom have been frequenting the business since it opened.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Oneonta resident Zanna McKay, who came by Thursday looking for a suitable mat for a family wedding photo.

“You have truly been a beacon in this town,” said another grateful customer who came to wish Cunningham well in her retirement.

Originally from Scotland, Cunningham studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and earned her master’s degree in painting from Ohio University, studying “bits here and there” ever since.

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 area for the arts,” Cunningham said. “It was something exciting. The people who come here and have always been here are just lovely people to meet and get to know. It was a good race.

“Obviously they have been a very important part of Main Street since even before we arrived,” said Deborah Blake, director and executive director of the Artisans Guild. “The people are lovely and the shop itself is full of surprises around every corner.”

With just four storefronts between Artware and Artisans Guild, Blake said Main Street shoppers would often mistake the former for the latter, but the artist-traders were always happy to point them in the right direction.

“We’re definitely going to miss this friendly confusion,” Blake said. “The Craftsmen’s Guild won’t be the same without Artware nearby.”

Like its downtown neighbors, the store’s sales have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Cunningham said. While staying home in quarantine may have boosted creativity in some, Artware hasn’t seen an uptick in business.

“I can see that happening, but because of COVID more people were buying online than coming to a storefront,” Cunningham said. “I can’t say it was good for business.”

In retirement, Cunningham said she intended to return to her roots in painting and ceramics and create simply to create.

“It’s for my own satisfaction now,” Cunningham said.

Artware of Oneonta is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday through 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, can be contacted at [email protected] or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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