Springfield Missouri National Art Shop closes as owners retire

The National Art Shop, a favorite haunt for local artists for decades, will close for the last time on Wednesday.

Jean and Jerry Sanders, who opened the store in 1970, retire and could not find anyone to buy them back and continue selling art supplies.

Decision ends 51 years in business that began with a simple problem: Jerry Sanders’ mother and aunt – local artists Louise Prater and Lucille Hammond – could not find any art supplies for sale in the Queen City.

There were a few paint stores they could buy from, but the choice was limited, which made Jerry Sanders think.

“I had always wanted my own business and made a few calls to the art museum and art teachers about the lack of an art supply store,” he told News- Leader in 1995. “I received a positive response.”

Quite quickly he had a loan of $ 3,000, enough to settle around the corner from the art museum in the building. National avenue hair salon busy now.

His mother ran the business while he kept her job on the Frisco Railroad, and the store quickly attracted a strong customer base from local colleges.

Buyers line up to checkout as they wrap National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

“The art teachers told the students what they wanted them to use and we were going to put all of their supplies into kits for them,” Jean Sanders said in an interview this week. “I wouldn’t say we made a lot of money on it, but it was enough.”

Once things started, Hammond, Jerry Sanders’ aunt, came to help his mother. The couple also had a bit of fun being identical twins.

They would like regularly alternating days in the store without telling anyone, and they took pleasure in the people who walked in and continued the conversations with a twin that they had started with the other.

They retired about a decade later and Jean Sanders filled the void, leaving behind her job in the bank.

Following:Pokin Around: Longtime Brentwood Gas Station Owner Not Worried About New Kum & Go

It was not easy, says Jean Sanders, “especially when you know what you’re doing with the bank and you don’t know anything about art”.

But she learned a lot through reading and from her employees, who courageously answered her questions about supplies and disciplines when she asked the question.

Buyers wait outside to enter the National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 during a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

“That’s why I always like (the people we hire) to have at least some art knowledge,” she said. “It is important.”

Customers appreciated this commitment as well, and they still do.

“Yes, there is the Internet now,” Aisha Farris, a local watercolor artist, said on Wednesday. “But to be able to come in and talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about and someone you can trust… Springfield is going to miss that.”

Following:State of Missouri opens arts park, John Goodman Amphitheater

Go up (a few blocks)

There were still a lot of challenges in the first decades.

Perhaps the biggest problem Sanders faced was getting a new building in 1986.

Their current home at National Avenue and Elm Street was then Brigance Foodlane, and by the time Jerry Sanders contacted Lester Brigance about a buyout, the grocer was on the verge of making a deal with someone else.

Brigance invited the Sanders over to dinner when he saw how crowded the art store had become, and Jean Sanders’ southern charm won him over.

“I introduced Jean and of course she has this strong accent, and he’s from the South”, Jerry Sanders said in an interview last year. “So he said, ‘I’m going to sell you my property. “”

Buyers wait outside to enter the National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 during a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

(Jean Sanders maintains that Brigance just wanted another family business.)

The store was also rocked by the dawn of computerized graphic design in the 1990s, which reduced the business of advertising companies that previously did everything by hand.

But the Sanders have adapted, adding a kids’ section with acrylic and outdoor chalk as well as impulse items for weekend sailors.

Following:‘Pack This College’: Leaders Urge Residents To Get Vaccinated At Missouri State Mega Event

By the time a News-Leader reporter came by in 1993, the Kids’ Zone was one of the fastest growing parts of the business.

“We are being given enough other things that we don’t notice (the losses) so much,” said Sanders. “And there will always be that artist or graphic designer who doesn’t have a computer.”

Aside from the prevalence of computers, there were certainly still a lot of talented people working with their hands.

Buyers wait outside to enter the National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 during a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

Mark Hillenburg, who worked in the store in the 1990s after school of architecture at what was then Drury College, said Tuesday he was repeatedly impressed with what came through the door.

“And a lot of those people that would come in, they would look like your average customer,” he said. “But then you would hear that they had just been commissioned to do a portrait of, say, the governor of a state, and that was why they needed the large canvas.”

“I met a lot of cool artists in Springfield that I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” he said, naming folk artist Robert E. Smith among them.

Following:Drury University appoints founding director of new medical assistant degree program

The store has also attracted people who have taken a different approach to art.

Weber Warren, who has worked in the store for 22 years, said he once brought in a man who sought to frame a ticket stub, a little pink slip and the grass stain on Kansas workout pants City Chiefs.

Buyers line up to checkout as they wrap National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

When Warren took a closer look, he saw the pink slip was a legal summons – the man said he wanted to commemorate the moment he was arrested as he rushed out onto the pitch at Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s not just ‘the starry night’,” Weber said.

“It’s more than an art supply store”

All of those memories have resurfaced in recent days after the Sanders announced their impending retirement.

“When I heard the news I contacted another person who worked there and we were all a little shocked and a little sad,” Hillenburg said. “It’s more than an art supply store. It truly is the centerpiece of artistic culture in Springfield.

This certainly seemed to be the case on Thursday, when the doors opened for the closing sale and the queue to enter wrapped around the building.

A line winds around the parking lot of the National Art Shop on Thursday, April 8, 2021 during a closing sale.  The owners retire after more than 50 years of activity.

Kevin Kloppenburg, an art professor at Ozarks Technical Community College, was among those in attendance and lamented the loss of a place he had been buying for decades.

“I bought all of my school supplies from there and now they are making kits for my students,” he said. “And the personalized service that you get there, you just don’t get it anymore.”

Jean Sanders also acknowledged these losses.

Following:Pokin Around: in the smallest town in Greene County; one race is tied, the other had no one on the ballot

“We have a lot of loyal customers,” she said, “and we really appreciated them.”

But she also said now is the time to move on.

Those knowledgeable employees that customers love have retired, she said, and it has proven difficult to replace them.

“And we are getting older,” she said. “There must be a time when you do … while we’re still healthy.”

Fans of the store got it.

Following:Missouri Department of Conservation Proposes Buyback Program to Combat “Growing Infestations” of Invasive Pear Trees

“Jean and her husband are amazing, they worked for 50 years,” Kloppenburg said. “God knows they’ve bought some free time. “

But it still hurts.

“I’m sure there are some really nice people at Hobby Lobby,” said Hillenburg, “but at the National Art Shop you can park right by the door, you don’t have to walk 200 feet away. things you don’t need, and everything is in the same place it always has been, I can get my hands on what I need and go.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now. “

Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader political reporter. Do you have something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at [email protected]

Laura J. Boyer