Tired of seeing all the vacant storefronts on Washington Avenue, area merchant Sharon Williams came up with a novel idea.
Why not open one of the closed storefronts to a collection of would-be merchants who couldn’t afford an entire store’s rent?
The result is the Prospect Heights Artisan Market Gallery. Located at 774 Washington Ave., between Sterling and Park, the store is occupied by five vendors selling everything from $3 hand-made soaps to $3,500 paintings made by more than a dozen artists.
“We have all this property that’s locked down. I want to help the property owner showcase his business and help an entrepreneur showcase his business,” said Williams, who is vice president of the Washington Avenue-Prospect Heights Association, a merchant’s group.
The storefront, which used to hold a beauty supply store, has been vacant for a year. But since Williams opened the gallery in late March, it’s been rented as of June 1. (However, the owners are not ready to say what kind of business will be coming in).
“There’s something about a shuttered business, people can’t envision the space. But when you see people actually doing things in it, it helps you imagine what you can do," said Williams.
"It’s like when you have a boyfriend and suddenly other men start winking at you,” she added.
Come June, Williams will move the gallery to another closed shop on the stretch between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue.
“The vision is to help revitalize the whole strip. There are 26 empty storefronts,” said Monifa Edwards, who has set up Motique Gallery at the Artisan Market.
Edwards, who represents 11 artists selling a range of wearable art, fine art sculpture, African art, photography and glass art, had been running the gallery out of her home.
“I would not be able to afford the full commercial rent. Now this is giving me the opportunity to get my feet wet, see if this will work for me commercially in a bigger way,” she said.
According to Edwards and Williams, the store gets good foot traffic (in the 20 minutes Patch was at the shop, two sets of customers came in) plus Williams, who has been selling hand-made jewelry through her business, Shaz Gallery, for a decade, has a large clientele who has now been exposed to the other four vendors in the space.
Besides Shaz and Montique galleries, the shop is also host to Urban Archaeology, a vintage and antique business owned by Patti Arrington, Michael Lewis, who sells clothing, and painters Stewart Hoyt and Emmett Wigglesworth.
Octavia McIntyre, a 23-year-old receptionist, came into the store on a recent morning. She said she was glad to see something in the shuttered storefront. “It’s a very beautiful store, so many different types of artifacts,” she said.
The Prospect Heights Artisan Market Gallery is hosting a “Stop, Shop, Sip Sale” all day today where customers can drink champagne, eat hors d’oeuvres, and meet some of the artisans at the shop.
Prospect Heights Artisan Market Gallery, 774 Washington Ave., between Sterling and Park, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 7 and occasionally on Sundays.