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Bellerose Art biz offers nostalgic experience

By Michael Morton

Pointing to a boxed set of watercolor paints, a salesman at Jerry’s Artarama in Bellerose explained why the product bore no barcode, just a price tag.

“We don’t have any scanners, and no computers either,” he said.

The art store, at Union Turnpike and 248th Street and a neighborhood institution for more than 30 years, may be a bit dated, but the owners would not have it any other way, the store’s manager said.

“I believe there’s a certain charm to what we want to maintain,” said Patrick Bartholomew, the store’s manager.

Jerry Goldstein, a local businessman who started in toys and then moved into art supplies, opened the store after moving his operations from Manhasset, L.I. In 1986 he sold the business to two of his sons, David and Ira Goldstein, and moved to Florida.

From local origins, the Goldsteins have expanded Jerry’s to become a national chain with 10 stores in states as far south as Florida and as far west as Colorado, with a new store in the works for Houston. The company, now based in Raleigh, N.C., also sells its products on the Internet, where items sell for an average of 10 percent less, according to the Web site.

“In a lot of ways, I’m competing against my own mail-order business,” said Bartholomew, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree and ended up in sales after school. When Bartholomew was hired eight years ago, the Bellerose location had become somewhat rundown, he said, and he was in charge of cleaning it up.

During discussions with the Goldstein brothers, the three of them decided that they wanted to maintain the store’s old look and its status as a neighborhood gathering place where artists from around the borough could come to buy supplies and talk shop.

“That’s the environment we’re trying to create,” Bartholomew said. “Everybody here likes to think of this as a community store.”

He said the challenge was finding a balance between nostalgia and efficient business practices, but he said the store is not always successful in doing so. While not going into financial specifics, Bartholomew also said the national chain was doing well overall, but his location posed more of a challenge, with a higher overhead because of more hefty tax burdens and rental costs than elsewhere in the country.

“Just getting by in Queens and the New York area right now is difficult,” Bartholomew said. “It’s a struggle.”

Instead of modernizing, Bartholomew said the store tries to focus on customer service and to serve the community. On an afternoon last week, a woman from Jamaica was shopping for acrylic paints for her portraits and two parents from Bellerose were buying poster board so their children could illustrate how blood pressure works for a class assignment.

“We come when there’s a school project, maybe once a month,” the father said.

In the back of the store, elementary children from Bellerose and Floral Park received instruction in how to use oil paints. The store opened an art school on the premises 10 years ago, with classes now starting at $120 for four weeks. Bartholomew said many local students had gone on to schools such as Cooper Union and the Pratt Institute.

Some of the students have also later volunteered at the school or been hired to work at the store.

Said Bartholomew: “The students here are very loyal.”

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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