Friday, June 08, 2012
The Little Gallery celebrates 25 years
Defying the odds and the naysayers, The Little Gallery has been a big part of the lake for
Photos by LAURIE EDWARDS | Laker Weekly
Owners Kay King (second from left) and Carol Swain (right), shown with employees Cindy Robertson (left) and Susan Patitucci, opened the gallery at Bridgewater Plaza 25 years ago. They recently said they are thinking about selling the business.
The Little Gallery carries recycled glass pieces in addition to paintings by local and regional artists.
The Bridgewater Plaza location has helped The Little Gallery attract both local and visiting customers. Among the pieces on sale are acrylics on wood with resin by Ned Moulton.
After 25 years in business, the owners of The Little Gallery can safely say they defied the odds.
Area residents openly laughed when they heard an art gallery would be opening at the newly constructed Bridgewater Plaza in the still-rural Moneta, recalled Carol Swain.
Despite the doomsayers, the gallery turned a profit in its fourth year and its margins have increased annually since, said Kay King, who along with Swain, owns the gallery. Even in the slow economy of the past few years, the gallery, like art, has endured, although the profit gains haven't been as great, said King.
"Just like everybody, we experienced the recession," said Swain. "We wouldn't be truthful if we said we didn't experience it."
When the economy soured and people began tightening their budgets, the gallery could have started offering lesser-caliber art than what it has in the past, said Swain. But it didn't.
"It really did take all these years to build the quality," she said.
Through the down economy, people still patronized the shop. King said they never had to lay off any employees thanks, in part, to the gallery's patrons.
"Our customers here are very loyal, very encouraging," said King.
To keep the customers happy, the artwork is constantly revolving so the shop feels like more of a gallery than a store, she said.
Swain said artwork is kept no longer than three months. If it doesn't sell, it's returned to the artist. She said that doesn't mean the work isn't good, it just isn't the right place or the right time for that particular piece.
"This might sell in another gallery somewhere else," said King. "Art is very personal; it speaks to your soul. If you don't try to sell the art, the art's going to sell itself to the customer."
There are more than 200 artists whose works are sold at the gallery. Swain said every style is represented, even contemporary work. Top sellers include Greg Osterhaus, David Heath, Lois Babb and Jane Stogner.
Every medium sells pretty well, although the popularity of watercolors has given way to oils because watercolors require greater upkeep, said Swain. The one thing that doesn't really sell, despite the economy, is prints.
"I think customers are seeing the value of original artwork," said King.
Swain said she and King did venture outside their everyday business tactics during the slowest economic times, however, and took a few risks.
"We might be here 25 years, but you can't do the same things over and over," she said. "A couple years ago when the economy wasn't so hot, we were like, 'What are we going to do? We need more money.'"
In the winter of 2010, the gallery hosted a silent auction of original artwork. The auction was so successful, it has become an annual event, said King. Since the auction's second year, a portion of the proceeds has been donated to Agape Center, a nonprofit that provides assistance to low-income families in the lake area.
The gallery opened at a second location - Westlake Towne Center - in June 2009. It closed the following January because of "staffing issues" and the difficulty of running a business at two locations, according to King.
King said more space is needed for the gallery, which has expanded four times since it opened in 1988. She said it would be great to expand at Bridgewater Plaza, but there isn't room right now.
"There's no better spot," said King. "It's the one spot that anybody who comes in from any area goes to. You have sort of a captive audience."
Because of its location, the gallery draws tourists and locals and the sales are split between the two. King said many vacationers have bought artwork from the gallery so they can take a piece of the lake home.
King and Swain said they're eternally grateful for what the gallery has become over the past 25 years and look forward to another 25. They may no longer be at the helm, however.
"As much as we love this place, we also need to be a little realistic and admit we're getting up in years," said Swain. "We'd hate to ever have to close it, but at this point, we would be willing to sell it."
King said they hope any potential new owners would keep the gallery open and help build on its quality and reputation. She said galleries may not fill a basic need, but artwork speaks to the human soul.
"Sometimes we marvel at how much we make in sales for art when art isn't something you need like bread," said Swain. "But people just eat it up."
The Little Gallery, Bridgewater Plaza, 16430 Booker T. Washington Highway, Moneta. 721-1596. thelittlegallerysml.com
THE LITTLE GALLERY 25-YEAR CELEBRATION
The Little Gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Saturday from 1 until 3 p.m. with a special celebration including "Visions of SML," a juried art show featuring local and regional artists, through the end of the month. Admission is free. Call 721-159 for more information.