MONTPELIER — In August, the Drawing Board art supply and frame shop in downtown Montpelier passed the baton to the third “generation” of owners when longtime employee Liz Walsh took over as solo owner.
“I am excited to be the new steward of the Drawing Board. Art supply and frame shops hold a certain kind of magic, possibility in every tube. And we love to see the artwork that comes through the doors. We see everything from wedding certificates to band posters, to fine oil paintings,” she said.
Walsh, who has worked at the store for 10 years and has been co-owner for the past six, recently purchased the business with help from a loan from the Vermont Community Loan Fund. Without the VCLF loan, Walsh said, she could not have done it.
“Traditional banks want collateral to back loans, and that’s sometimes hard with small businesses. Vermont Community Loan Fund is there because small businesses need an alternative. They are able to work with businesses that might not have the collateral needed for a traditional loan,” she said.
The loan to the Drawing Board was part of a series of loans granted in the third quarter of 2017 by VCLF. Based in Montpelier, VCLF has loaned over $5,560,000 over the past six months to Vermont-based companies.
“The Loan Fund is proud to help finance and support these innovative entrepreneurs, child care programs, community facilities and affordable-housing developers,” said VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “These programs and projects are creating jobs, homes, opportunity and financial stability for Vermonters across the state.
“Most VCLF borrowers have been turned down by a conventional lender. In some cases, where the borrower already has a relationship with credit from a conventional lender, the lender is unwilling to extend further credit. In some cases there is no pre-existing relationship with a lender,” said Jake Ide, VCLF director of investment and philanthropy.
For Walsh, the loan and purchase process was lengthy but worth the wait. “We had a few bumps along the way, and the process took us from March to August to make it happen. Lots and lots of paperwork and lawyersin buying a business,” she said.
What the VCLF loan did, she said, was “bridge the gap between owner financing and the purchase price. I used the loan like one might as a down payment on a house.”
According to Walsh, art supply stores are an endangered species. She pointed to the recent closure of Boutiliers of Burlington, which was one of the state’s largest art supply and custom framing stores and a Church Street institution for many years.
The “big elephant in every room,” Walsh said, is the issue of internet sales. Stores like hers don’t compete on price but rather on service, especially in the custom frame end of the business.
“We know our customers, we can help people solve their problems, and we are a fun place to visit for inspiration. I’m not sure what retailing will be like in five years, but I do know that you can’t see it, smell it, touch it, or taste it online, and art making is a tactile experience. We are just like every other brick-and-mortar retailer — no one has a solid answer as to how to compete with the internet. All we can do is to continue to be the best little art and frame shop in Montpelier.”
Walsh is not planning any significant changes to the Main Street business.
“I have been a co-owner for years and a manager too, so the changes we need to make happen as they are needed. I’m blessed to have a great staff,” she said, explaining the six staff members have been there between 3 and 27 years. “We will continue to do what we need to as we go. I guess the only real change is we repainted our bathroom in 36 colors because we (the Drawing Board has six employees) couldn’t decide on one.”
After three months as the new owner, Walsh is confident the shop will continue as a staple in the community. So far this holiday season, business has been strong. “ (The) last Friday (in November), Black Friday nationally but ‘Flannel’ Friday in Montpelier, the store was crazy busy,” she said.
“The VCLF has made it possible for this business to keep going. Art stores are becoming more and more rare, and I can’t imagine a creative, community like Montpelier without an art store,” she added.
Since 1987, VCLF has loaned over $100 million to local businesses, affordable housing developers and community-based organizations that has created or preserved 5,600 jobs; built or rehabilitated 4,000 affordable homes; created or preserved quality care for over 3,850 children and their families; and supported community organizations providing vital services to hundreds of thousands of Vermonters, according to Ide.
The latest round of loans varied from an affordable housing project in Burlington to Northern Reliability, of Waitsfield, which manufactures electric power storage systems, which will use the money to replace an existing, high-cost line.
According to Ide, the average loan this cycle was for $357,000. Loan sizes ranged from $10,000 to $2.3 million.