12 March 2017

[art] Arttist & Craftsman Supply: New Kid On The PDX Art Store Block

Our Saturday art-storin' peramubulations gave us a chance to check out a new kid in town.

Artist & Craftsman Supply is an art-supply store, thought the name might throw you off a bit; it sounds like a boutique-y name for a boutique-y Home Depot variant. But it is an art-supply store, I'm happy to say. One look at the front should clue just about anyone.

Decorated in vibrant designs resonant of 1960s 'Op-art', its tucked away on SE 21st Avenue just north of and on the other side of the street from Fred Meyer's home office, which is just south of SE Powell Boulvard. To find it, turn south off Powell at the Plaid pantry at the light at 21st (just west of Powell Park and Cleveland High School, just east of the railroad underpass) and look for it on the right. You'll have a hard time missing it.

A&C isn't a local company, though it is based in Portland … the one in Maine … and they do seem to be on a nationwide expansion kick lately. Its story is kind of interesting though. As the corporate legend has it, Larry Adlerstein was a renovation professional and in 1985 his mate was let go from her job. He took a renovated structure he had available in Yarmouth, Maine and they started an art supply store there, and it apparently took the name Artist & Craftsman because she was the first one and he was the second one. It apparently did well; in 1995 they moved it to Portland where it did even better. He enjoyed having he store but in the mid-90s big money started to move into the art supply world and from his point of view the way to survive was to grow. That led to A&C's second store … in Seattle, which if you're growing from Portland in Maine, well, you don't have to be a Forbes subscriber to know that's taking a huge chance. Now, in 2017, there are more than 30 stores nationwide (there are not one but two in our Portland, the other in North Portland at the corner of N Lombard St and N Atlantic Avenue (that's just west of the light at Denver) and as of the end of 2016, it's now a 100% employee-owned store.

Walking into the place we had our expectations. I was hoping there was Preppy fountain pens, of course, but there were none, however, they had a good supply of just about everything else. Drawing, painting, all sorts of media, papers … I even saw a wall display of yarn. Notable about the store was what I call the 'impluse purchase' section closer to the front; they have a surprisingly diverse selection of merchandise such as the kind Blue Q produces.

The clerks were nice, friendly, and quite helpful. Being a chain, you'll have to make up your mind how you feel about that, Portlander; but being an employee-owned business goes a long way with some of us, me included. I would come here to see if I couldn't find something that I couldn't find anywhere else, or if a favorite source is closed.

And sections of the front wall are back-album-cover worthy:

It's a nice place. Worth a visit.

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