Art Spot Moves West
Priced out of downtown, McCabe Ash finds a home on Zeeb.
by M.B. Lewis
From the November, 2016 issue
Free parking in front is one thing McCabe Ash relishes about the new location of the Art Spot (also known as Graphic Art Wholesalers). It's in Baxter's Plaza, the little strip mall at Zeeb and I-94 with Grand Traverse Pie Company at one end and Metzger's at the other. "It's good for my customers--no more lugging packages to whatever parking they can find," he says. Parking isn't the only reason he moved his framing and poster art shop from Main St. in August. "Rent prices downtown were going crazy, and I knew for the last four years that I wasn't going to be able to afford to stay downtown," says Ash, a native of Coldwater who has an art history degree from Michigan State. He dates the challenges back to when the housing bubble burst, right before President Obama's first term.
"Prior to the economic crash, our business was doing really well. Then a lot of people lost money. The framing industry nationally dropped by half, my suppliers tell me. Framing and art are pretty much a disposable income market; suddenly there was a mindset of 'let's not get little Susie or Bobby's drawing framed this year.'
"The trickle-down effect was such that the artists and photographers I worked with weren't coming around as much--people I had had business relationships with for twenty years--so I was doing less volume." He estimates that in its heyday--"the dot.com market time when everything was going well"--Graphic Art Wholesalers did four times as much business as it saw in its last months downtown. The end of his seven-year lease, which expired on August 1, was the final factor behind the move west. "I had hoped to be out before Art Fair, after months and months of stress," he says.
At his lowest point, bright moments began to emerge. "I worked with a fantastic moving company, mostly college football players, called All Directions Moving. They helped me pack up and completed
the move in three days, with no damage or breakage."
Jon Carlson, a partner in the neighboring Pretzel Bell restaurant that took over the Art Spot's space (see In the Works), was also great to work with, Ash says. "He said 'if you can't be out by August 1, don't worry about it,' and he talked to the landlord. Because of that I was able to get my security deposit back." The good news continued out on Zeeb, where his new landlord--Dave Cornish of Baxter's Liquors and Wines a few doors down--gave him extra time rent free to set up the shop. "And then John Metzger came with a gift card to welcome me. And Delia from Delia's Salon, who used to have this space, brought clients over, saying, 'Oh, you have to see this new shop.' I couldn't have done this without them."
The new place is smaller, and the focus is more on upscale framing, including stock with gold-leaf finish and mother-of-pearl inlay, ranging upward of $200 a linear foot. He still carries budget-conscious frames and familiar items to fill them like big Michigan Stadium photos and Chris Bidlack's retro-styled posters for imaginary local companies--"my best sellers," Ash says, partly because law firms and banks buy whole sets for their offices. Bidlack also provides marketing advice--he's the one who convinced Ash to adopt the catchier and more memorable Art Spot name.
An artist himself, Ash has advice for people considering framing: "Do it once, and do it right. It's protective, and it's personal. We kind of define ourselves by what we put around us. You find a hut in the middle of nowhere, and it's going to have something on the wall."
With unusual toy collages and his own mosaics in the front window, along with the Bidlack flights of imagination, Ash is trying to catch attention of the walk-by traffic he still gets, thanks to the AAA office, Arbor Vacuum store, and other destination services tucked in with him in Baxter's Plaza. "I feel really fortunate to have gotten this," he says.
Art Spot (aka Graphic Art Wholesalers), 301 N. Zeeb (Baxter's Plaza), 769-5110. Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. graphicartwholesalers.com
[Originally published in November, 2016.]
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