On the Eve of its Closure: Visiting the Only Art Supply Store in the Bronx

After being a part of the community for two years, the Bronx’s only employee-owned art supply store is closing.

On April 21st, Artist & Craftsman Supply store on White Plains Road, between East 224th and 225th Street, will close their doors for the final time.

Rob Dingman, Senior Regional Manager for Artist & Craftsman Supply speaking with Gonzalo Duran

After hearing the disheartening news, many loyal customers ask “Why?”. One of the main reasons has to do with economics, or plainly, the rent is too high and not enough sales are being made. However, there is hope for the future, “There is nothing that we can do immediately, but after hearing all of the encouraging words from people, we are going to consider other locations in the Bronx within the year.” said Rob Dingman, Senior Regional Manager for Artist & Craftsman Supply. Dingman went on to explain that it would take a year before being able to reassess their financial prospects and consider another Bronx location.

In speaking with a few customers, many were shocked or heartbroken to hear of the store’s closing. “I am sad it’s closing, it feels really sudden. If I knew about them closing I would have saved more money to buy more.” said Lauren Warren, a loyal customer and Bronx artist. Many people were unaware of the impeding closing.

Artist, Lauren Warren, standing outside of Artist & Craftsman Supply

City Island artist and gallery owner, Ron Terner did not know the store was closing but agreed that communities in the Bronx need to figure out ways to help local businesses, “We should support our local businesses. Nice stores are a reflection of the area and neighborhoods will look abandoned with closed store fronts.” He continued, “We need to find ways to help out local merchants, maybe by having rent reductions for small businesses so that there is some way to cut the overhead so that the store has a chance to compete with the internet.”

The closing of Artist & Craftsman Supply store does not only hurt artists, but teachers are feeling the loss as well. In speaking with a friend who is a teacher, she immediately called her coworker to inform her of the sad news. “Guess we will have to find somewhere else to get our classroom art supplies from.” one of them said solemnly. Additionally, children who participated in art workshops at the store are losing out as well.

With so many people sad to see this art store closed, the question some might ask is why there was not enough support when the store first opened. There was plenty of individual support but some institutionalized factors come into play with it closing. “Most people shop on the internet these days. I am guilty of it as well.” admitted Turner. Other fellow shoppers explained that the location, under the 2 train, was difficult to get too with complaints ranging from difficulty finding parking to it not being near a transportation hub.

Many community people have expressed that the store should have been located in the Fordham or Pelham Bay area but, even as Dingman explained, the rent at Fordham is too high.

However, rent is not the only issue here and there are multiple factors to consider. A friend, who is an artist, suggested that it is difficult for art stores to succeed because Bronx artists have gotten used to not having support from outside sources and find that most stores (specifically those in Manhattan) are overpriced. “Artists have gotten used to hearing about our favorite stores closing while the more expensive ones stay open. This forces us even more to go online to find better and cheaper supplies. Also artists are now forming their own collectives to help each other out because they know that local officials care about art only in name.” she explained.

All of these factors should be considered in the general discussion on how to better improve support and access for artists. The fact remains that the Bronx is lacking in resources through the loss of Barns & Noble, the only book store in the borough, and now through this closing. Many Bronxites are fighting to change this by forming independent initiatives, such as Noëlle Santos, owner of The Lit. Bar. Devil Dog USA, Inc. has hosted art classes and galleries in underserved areas for free to brig more access to communities. But all of these are being purely supported by individuals with no (or little) help from elected officials or government.

At 5 p.m. today, Artist & Craftsman Supply store will close it’s doors but here is to hoping that we, the Bronx, can come together to bring artists more access to supplies.

Photos courtesy of James Washington-Ward 

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