There are five decades of history among the rows of art supplies and picture frames at National Art Shop – rows that now bare liquidation sale signs. The front windows of the National Avenue staple are covered in neon “Store Closing” banners.
On April 5, owners Jerry and Jean Sanders announced the 51-year-old business would close this year to allow them to bring their working days to an end. It’s a bittersweet decision and talking about the store closing makes the couple emotional.
“We’re getting older, and we want to be able to do some things while we can, so we made the decision that now is the time to close, since we didn’t have any interest from somebody buying it,” Jean Sanders said.
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 artists in Springfield – including his mother, Louise Prater, and his aunt, Lucille Hammond – a place to shop. The sisters helped with the shop until 1981.
“At that time, there was not any place in Springfield to get art supplies – we didn’t have any of these big stores,” Jerry Sanders said. “That’s where it started, and it seemed to blossom from there.”
Needing space to grow, Jerry bought the 6,200-square-foot building at 509 S. National Ave. in 1986 – quadrupling the size of the store. Fear of not being able to fill the space was soon gone as they found themselves expanding their inventory.
Since then, the shop has provided fine art supplies, gift items and custom framing for Springfield’s artists and university students.
Moon City Arts LLC owner Linda Passeri is one of those local artists.
“They’ve been a constant throughout my whole career as an artist, from when they started in the little house down the street on National to when they moved,” Passeri said. “I buy whatever I can from them just to make sure I can put some money in a local business.”
Passeri said the loss of National Art Shop will impact established and up-and-coming professional artists in the area. “They’re always the touchstone. I always go to National Art Shop and either find what I need or talk with somebody there who could give me good advice,” Passeri said. “It’s going to be a large void that they’re leaving.”
In a 2010 article in Springfield Business Journal, the Sanderses talked about growing their website and online sales – something they hoped would bump up revenue. In the last decade, the growth of online retail has skyrocketed, especially in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although they said they’re sure some business was lost to the internet, Jerry and Jean said they haven’t seen a noticeable drop in sales related to online shopping or the pandemic, other than being closed for six weeks. The couple declined to disclose the shop’s revenue.
“The thing is – we’ve got the merchandise and if you want it, you can come get it right now,” Jerry Sanders said. “And we do a lot of custom picture framing, and that’s something you don’t order online. That’s a big part of our business.”
Passeri said there’s something about shopping in person for art supplies you don’t get online that keeps artists coming in.
“When you’re looking for a brush, you want to be able to touch that brush and hold it. When you’re looking for papers, you want to be able to hold them and feel the weight,” Passeri said. “I believe we’ve just taken for granted that they would always be there.”
Although the pandemic has led to some business closures due to economic circumstances, the couple said that wasn’t a factor in their decision. Business was going well.
“There comes a time where you have to make that decision, and we just feel like now is the time to do it,” Jean Sanders said.
“We’re too old to be working six days a week,” Jerry Sanders added. “You can’t get (Jean) to quit – she’s a workaholic. The only way to get her to quit is to retire.”
Now that the closure announcement is made, the Sanderses are working with RFM Retail Consulting Inc., a company specializing in promotional sales and exit strategies, to liquidate inventory beginning April 8. Original art pieces by Jerry’s mother and aunt, as well as furniture and display fixtures, are for sale. They expect to be wrapping up final sales and clearing the building out by the beginning of June and as of now, they have no solid plans for the building or property after that.
Their biggest hope is someone will want to buy it and continue running it as an art shop. Jerry said they want to see the property sold to the right person.
As they prepare to say goodbye, Jerry and Jean Sanders think of the collection of friends they’ve made through the shop and saying goodbye to them is what Jean is dreading the most.
“We’ve made a lot of good friends,” Jean said, emotion in her voice. “But we’ll see them around.”
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