Preserving Our Small Art Stores

I support our local small art stores
99% of the time;

This week reminded me of WHY I shop small business,

I have used Golden Gesso many times in my life,
but never paid attention to how much a tub covered.
And I had to cover a carousel horse, not a canvas!
And I needed it pronto — I thought I had it, but I was looking a tubs of Black Gesso,
not usable for my white carousel horse.

So I went to the amazon of art supplies.  WHY?
Because they took over the lovely smaller art store that had artists for employees,
and my closest really good art store that carries larger containers (Merriartist)
is about 1 1/2 hours away… I am on a time crunch!
The weekend was upon us so I could not wait the one day for shipping from Merriartist — it would have been three days, not one, and again, time crunch!

I asked the woman at the big box store if she knew Acrylic gesso… she said yes.
I asked her how much I should buy to cover a large wooden horse — she didn’t know.
She didn’t even think about it.
I asked if she thought the largest tub, 128oz — really, we are talking a gallon of gesso here — was enough.  She had no idea.  She could not even begin to think about this.

No one else at the big box store knew either.

I’d like to say this was an anomaly, but mostly when I ask questions there employees
walk over and read the information on the package.  Like I can’t read.

Now I know that Sally at Merriartist would be stumped by my question to some extent
— she is also not in the habit of painting carousel horses to my knowledge…
but Sally knows gesso.  She would have really considered this and given me her best shot.  And I am sure I would not have bought TWO GALLONS of white gesso!
The coverage for this horse is under 32 oz… closer to 12oz but buying 32oz
would have been fine — having some left over for insurance.
Or I might have bought two 32 oz jars and taken one back, still less $$$.

So what is my point?

I know the big  box stores seem cheaper, but a lot of that is hype.
The biggest one I am thinking of is always having sales but check the fine print!
The sale coupon can’t be applied to anything already discounted and folks,
most items are already discounted…
I know for a fact Merriartist matches and sometimes beats their prices
as I’ve done pricing comparisons for studio projects.

Some of the big box stores that are craft stores sell inferior brands —
and this means you get inferior paper and paint and brushes and you didn’t even know.
Some folks have to buy cheap because they can’t afford it,
but even there, small art stores may have a better selection of student grade brands.

And frankly, I’m willing to pay a few pennies more (and it is just a few pennies more)
to have people save me money by knowing product.
Yes I can return unopened product, but most of the time I’ve opened it and it is all wrong!
The employees at the big box stores do not know anything about art supplies.

If you don’t support the small art stores,
they will disappear.

I have to buy and ship most of my supplies, as THE big box store
has a stranglehold on Portland, owning two stores here.
I use the two small online stores below for 99% of my art supplies,
and do not prefer one to the other —
They both don’t carry everything I want… so I spread the love around.
I just keep throwing things in my cart until I reach the minimum…
and occasionally I have to pay shipping.

Merriartist ships free at $90
(that number is so easy to reach
with art supplies, and I buy most
of my paint from them).
Sally is almost always there
to answer questions and if not,
employees either know product
(Yay!) or tell you if they don’t
(which I appreciate) — and they will call
you back! Merriartist usually can
get supplies to me in one day.

WetPaintArt ships free at $99,
also an easy $$ to reach!
They carry Hahnemuhle journals,
and fountain pens and ink,
so they always get one
order a year from me for sure.
Their employees also know stuff
(Yay!) and if not, will tell you!
Shipping take a few days from the midwest.

What are your favorite small art stores?
Do you still have one?

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About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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8 Responses to Preserving Our Small Art Stores

  1. All very valid points and thanks for bringing them to our attention again. I’m concerned about the possibility that some day the only option will be AMAZON


  2. Dan Antion says:

    My daughter worked for a small art store when she was in art school. The place went out of business during her senior year. It’s the same with small hardware stores. I was trying to find the right long Allen wrench for my roof rack. I went into my local store and the guy said “take a bunch out and see which one fits.” Try that at the big orange box.


  3. Debi Taylor says:

    I know exactly what you mean with that Big Box Store! I do most of my pre-selection on their website, but invariably once I get there in person (I cannot afford the shipping to where I live, so I have to wait until I travel there), they have yet to have whatever it is that I’ve found on their website, in-store, which is so frustrating. I’ve seen a pattern though, that anything that one would regard as specialty or professional grade, they don’t have in the shop, so there is no way to look at something to see if that is really what you want to buy
    And as for the staff there, even my simplest of questions, they’ve not been able to answer and have suggested I go Google it (as if I didn’t already know how to search online). In San Francisco there are 3 of these stores that I frequently go past as they are on main roads, and like any other artist, cannot resist the temptation to pop inside for a look. I invariably walk away empty-handed. I have no idea why I continue to put myself through this.
    On the flip-side, I have found two other wonderful independent stores, Artist & Craftsman Supply and ARCH Art Supplies, and the staff there are wonderful and knowledgable without having to resort to Googling or reading the labels out loud to me.


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