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The Paint Spot Story

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Features that Sidsel wanted to offer our customers were a gallery wall, and a ‘kaffee klatch’ area where customers could sit and relax with a cup of coffee. Art could always be seen in the store, whether on the walls or even as an installation in the centre of the floor. This gallery wall remained a part of The Paint Spot. In our second location we reserved two store walls for hanging local art, and in our third and present location, the 1200 sq ft Fringe Gallery displays art in the basement below the store.

The Paint Spot was unique in western Canada in that we did not follow the usual course of stocking supplies for both areas of art - fine art, and graphic art/draughting. Instead we maintained a focus on materials for painters and sketchers, enabling us to offer the artist-customer a higher level of expertise. To further this aim, we began to offer our customers printed Tips Sheets, bearing information on how to use various materials. This resource grew to the point where we reserved two file drawers to store them all, as they numbered over one hundred. We continued to create these product letters by recording pertinent information learned from the many conversations held with our manufacturers’ laboratory staff. This practise proved valuable and assisted us in becoming a reliable resource for artists.

In addition, we stubbornly refused to deal with the distributor representing the then-dominant Grumbacher brand, choosing instead to stick with our original concept of offering to Alberta artists, quality brands which were not then available to them. This proved to be a hard road to follow and for this reason, education remained a key element in our operating style. Golden acrylics were an near-unknown name in Canada until we began stocking them after a call to New York in June ‘85. We had been discussing this brand with a customer in our first store when Sidsel suggested I make a call to the factory and see if they would be interested in our representing the name in Alberta. I agreed, saying I would make a call the next morning. But she insisted I call immediately, right now. I did, and Mark Golden answered the phone, saying “it’s funny, but we were just now discussing what to do about the Canadian market.”. He indicated they would consider dealing with us, so we followed up, sending him a detailed package of information which even included photographs of us and our store. The result was an agreement, and the first stocking dealer in all of western Canada (we were just the second store in all of Canada). Today their acrylic paints are sold world-wide.

 

 

_ first store to handle Schmincke products from Germany.  H. Schmincke and Co. was then another new and unknown name in Canada that we contacted in 1986. We become an exclusive dealer for these fine German paints, and introduced their name into the western market. This connection was also the result of our interest and our contacting the factory directly, making a positive impression on the Schmincke owner himself.

_ first store to stock Sennelier oil and dry pastels from France (1985)

_ first store to stock da Vinci artist brushes from Germany (1987)

One other factor in our success has been frequent product testing. We didn’t accept the manufacturers’ grand statements about their products so we did our own tests, including about 150 lightfastness tests (to check for fading). All new materials were handled by our artists on staff, just as they would be later by our customers, to verify the quality and equip the staff to better help customers.

Since 1986 David began producing a newsletter known as The Spot’Light, which was mailed annually to all customers. This 4  to 6 page publication was written to include interesting and useful tips to enable artists to gain a better understanding of materials, and it too won recognition as the Best Newsletter by the NAMTA organization in USA. (National Art Materials Trade Association)

When that first two year lease was up, we were asked to find a new home as Budget had other plans for the property. In fact the old building got partially torn down even before we had left - only our section was left standing. We finally left it on May 1, 1987, and when I drove by the next morning, there was nothing but rubble where our ‘home’ had been.

 

In the Commercial Hotel 10325 Whyte Ave

 

We heard that the Commercial Hotel had just completed a new tavern, leaving the old one, facing onto Whyte Avenue, empty, renovated and available for lease. We became its first tenants in 1987.

 

 

 

 This was brand new space, with plush grey carpet and two wood and glass doors, and excellent windows for passers-by to see. It was 40% larger than the old place, and while it lacked parking, it served us well. This is where we started to decorate our street-front windows which became an attraction for passers-by, as well as a good marketing tool. Our meagre stock area and ‘office’ was simply the narrow hall behind the store.

 This area was well-used, with our staff of five and their desks, serving also as a ‘lunchroom’ (same desks) and a stockroom. Eventually we had to rent a room upstairs for additional office space, as well as a room in the hotel basement to store cases of inventory.

Due to the nature of The Commercial Hotel, some of our daily visitors were bikers and drunks, but we had little trouble. During these seven years, I became involved with the early stage of the Old Strathcona Village Market Association, a long name that was later shortened by the removal of one word - “Village”. This group has since developed into OSBA, the Old Strathcona Business Association. Sidsel, during these years, completed the BFA program and then went on to get her Masters of Fine Art, all the while finding time to attend to our books and finances.

We stayed there in our second location for seven years, and when it was time to renew once again, the landlord bumped the rate by 25%. This meant that we had to find a new home in a hurry. We searched again throughout the entire region, and finding nothing, we expanded the search to include many light warehouse districts of the south side. Meanwhile, Sidsel’s friend, who was in real estate, suggested we look at purchasing a small building that she thought would suit us.

This was viewed as outrageous - we are only a little art supplies store; how could we think of owning a building? But she persisted and as we became more desperate, we finally decided to have a look at the two-storey building she had in mind. We quite liked it and could see how it could be made suitable, so Sidsel and I managed to acquire it.

 

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