Hanging On: How A Brooklyn Custom Framing Shop Survived The Pandemic


Because the proprietor of a customized framing retailer, Lurita “LB” Brown is aware of which objects her prospects really feel strongly sufficient to place behind glass. She seen a shift when individuals had been caught at residence in the course of the pandemic.

“They’re wanting round and saying, ‘Oh, I do not forget that {photograph}, what did I do with it?’”she recalled. “They go to the automotive, ‘Oh, the glass was damaged.’” Different purchasers discovered artistic endeavors they’d gotten from kinfolk and determined to have them reframed.

These artistic endeavors weren’t all only for nicer backgrounds on Zoom. Brown noticed comparable conduct after the September eleventh assaults.

“It is nearly the identical human. emotional connection to household, to neighborhood, to issues that individuals need to embrace and produce it of their residence,” she mentioned.

This emotional connection in the course of the pandemic is a part of why Clinton Hill Merely Artwork & Framing continues to be round. After 30 years in enterprise on Myrtle Avenue, Brown has realized the right way to pivot in altering occasions, embracing her strengths whereas additionally discovering new prospects. It’s no small feat, contemplating how town misplaced greater than 630,000 jobs final 12 months and retail was among the many hardest- hit industries. A survey of minority-owned small companies in New York Metropolis, performed by the non-profit Native Initiatives Help Company, discovered half had been nonetheless unable to pay their full hire as lately as February. 

A former Ebony Journal promoting government, Brown initially opened the shop in 1991 as a gallery promoting posters and prints by individuals of shade, largely to African American collectors. She featured rising artists like Danny Simmons and Jimmy Greene, whose Youngsters’s Cathedral mosaic is a part of the Utica Avenue subway cease. She quickly added customized framing. That put her in a very good place when gentrification swept by the neighborhood, and brownstone house owners got here by with their very own artworks. 

“They perceive preservation framing,” she mentioned, including that these prospects additionally valued having a neighborhood enterprise. 

When the pandemic struck, Brown needed to shut her retailer for 3 months. However she mentioned she didn’t panic.

“I knew that I had a sure clientele,” she defined. “I’ve a excessive repeat enterprise. I’ve a excessive referral enterprise, and I’ve now a youthful purchaser of my companies that is shifting within the neighborhood.”

The purchasers dropping by on a Saturday afternoon in early spring illustrated her level. Crystal White, 55, mentioned her ex-husband first got here to the store about 20 years in the past. She introduced alongside a basketball-themed poster with damaged glass from her son’s bed room. It was initially framed on the retailer. She was driving to have it fastened in downtown Brooklyn, however stopped en route. “I’ll go to my buddy on Myrtle Avenue” as a substitute, she mentioned.

White waited by the door of the little store, for social distancing causes, whereas Brown confirmed 24-year-old Raven Small totally different coloured mats to boost a replica of a portray by Georgia O’Keeffe. 

Small moved to Flatbush lately from Los Angeles for work, and mentioned she’s by no means had something framed earlier than as a result of she beforehand lived together with her mother and father.

“I’m actually excited to have an area that I can name my very own,” she mentioned. She heard about Brown’s store by one other Brooklyn retailer proprietor she follows on Instagram.

“She got here right here and I noticed her publish about it,” including that she loves that the body store is Black-owned. Small additionally picked out a Diego Rivera replica from Brown’s assortment of prints within the entrance of the shop.

Phrase-of- mouth has undoubtedly helped Brown’s enterprise, particularly with youthful prospects on social media. However the neighborhood can also be a giant consider her success. 

Clinton Hill isn’t reliant on vacationers or workplace towers. It’s bought school college students from the Pratt Institute and individuals who work in numerous industries on the Brooklyn Navy Yard. However they’re not so dominant that their absence in the course of the pandemic prompted a collapse in native companies, mentioned Chad Purkey, government director of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership.

“I believe we’re in a bit of little bit of a candy spot,” he defined, including that the companies are roughly one third eating places, one third private companies, and one third retail.

Purkey mentioned about 10 companies closed for the reason that pandemic and 10 extra opened, making it a typical 12 months. He thinks that’s as a result of extra individuals had been residence and in a position to patronize the outlets and eating places, even when some left city or decamped briefly to summer season properties. 

“Our neighborhood isn’t outlined by one demographic class,” he mentioned. “It’s not high- revenue, it’s not low-income. It’s not entry-level, working class. It’s not professionals. It’s a mixture of all of that and I believe that that’s actually labored out properly for us and for our companies.” 

However Purkey additionally mentioned a whole lot of the companies wanted authorities funding to get by, or landlords keen to scale back their hire. Brown didn’t. She mentioned she already had a very good long-term lease and sufficient financial savings to pay her payments when she needed to shut for 3 months. Nonetheless, it’s been a tough 12 months.

“It’s not enjoyable in any respect,” she mentioned. “As a result of I’m the every thing to maintain this going.”

Brown can solely handle two orders without delay per buyer and restricted her retailer hours. She has a backlog piled up within the store’s basement the place she works by herself. Previous to the pandemic she mentioned she had one full-time worker and three part-timers, however she hasn’t introduced anybody again as a result of she’s afraid to work with others in such a small area so long as the virus is on the market.

“I might most likely rent them,” she mentioned, however “I am not very snug. The store means we have got to have shut proximity.”

Customized framing is labor-intensive; it requires sizing and reducing the mats and glass. The business has been shrinking as frames are more and more mass-produced by massive companies, like Michaels, and other people store on-line. Brigette Thomas, an business analysis analyst at IBIS World, estimated there at the moment are about 4,050 small customized framing outlets nationally, in comparison with greater than 5,000 5 years in the past.

However individuals additionally turned to residence enhancements in the course of the pandemic. Kimberly Biesiada, editor of 

Image Framing Journal — which included a narrative about Brown in its April situation — mentioned many outlets noticed a lift regardless of a scarcity in wooden and different supplies that prompted delays.

“Now we have heard from many framing retailers throughout the U.S. who say they’ve been busier than ever since reopening final summer season, with no signal of slowing down,” she mentioned.

Brown mentioned she’d rent a few staff if she will get a grant to purchase computerized gear so mat reducing is extra environment friendly. She’s debating the right way to improve and will additionally use a supervisor to assist lighten the load. However after 30 years, she mentioned her story proves how a small native enterprise can survive a horrible 12 months, if it’s bought the right combination of consumers, status, and expertise.

“I do not suppose that I am an oddity,” she mentioned, noting different companies made it by the pandemic with out getting consideration, “as a result of the quantity base is a lot better for individuals who will fail than the deal with those that have survived it.”

However Brown additionally shrugged her shoulders and conceded she doesn’t have all of the solutions. “I am imagined to be right here,” she mentioned. “And till I am not imagined to be right here, then I will not be right here.”

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter protecting town’s restoration efforts at WNYC. You possibly can observe her on Twitter at @bethfertig.