In the middle of a Long Island City block peppered with nondescript factories lies the only art supply store in the neighborhood.
The area, which is known for its tight-knit artist community, is teeming with artists who are working out of increasingly costly studio space. The art supply store, located at 34-09 Queens Blvd., is hoping to make it easier for them to do their colorful work.
From paint and canvas to yarn and slabs of stone, Artist & Craftsman Supply is a one-stop shop servicing students, teachers, professional artists and production studios.
It has been the only art supply store in such an arts-heavy neighborhood for three years, and last month, it made a change: it is now all employee-owned.
The company was founded in Maine by Larry Alderstein in 1985. Since becoming fully employee-owned, staff members have greater control of each store and can make bigger decisions about expansion efforts, according to Regional Manager Trevor Sparks.
“Nick [Jussen] is the [general] manager so we trust him to run the store properly and not oversee too much,” Sparks said. “We run independently. It allows everyone to hit their mark how [it] needs to be hit.”
The Long Island City branch is one of 35 national locations and opened its doors to artists in May 2014. According to Sparks, the company knew that there was a dearth of art supply stores in the area and were persuaded to open a Queens location after finding a prime location with affordable rent.
The building was home to a Breyer’s ice cream factory and most recently acted as a fabric store. The 10,000-square-foot space contains racks of materials and also includes a space for teachers interested in conducting art classes.
A range of classes have been taught at the space including clay classes, drawing and painting and a workshop to help high school students refine their portfolios for college applications, according to Jussen. Each of the six employees at Artist & Craftsman Supply are also artists.
“Our main thing is just being here for the artists and community,” Jussen said. “We try to help out the community as much as we can with donations, whatever we can do.”
In addition to students from LaGuardia Community College and Aviation High School, families in Sunnyside and Astoria have been loyal customers, Sparks said. The company also donates supplies to local organizations like Long Island City artists and gives 10 percent discounts to many working artists.
Before Artist & Craft Supply opened, many artists made trips into the city to visit Pear Paint on Canal St. But Artist & Craft Supply filled a void soon after Pear Paint’s April 2014 closure.
“Besides being one of the only places to get real art supplies in Queens, Cristina Ferrigno from Artist and Craftsman Supply has been a great supporter and sponsor to our group, Long Island City Artists Inc.,” said Edjo Wheeler, board member of local nonprofit Long Island City Artists. “They have come out to support our art shows at the Plaxall Gallery, donated a lot [of] very needed drawing materials for our life drawing workshops and gave our members some very appreciated discount cards. We’re glad to have them in the neighborhood, instead of always having to go into Manhattan and usually paying more.”
Long Island City has also increasingly been the backdrop for large television productions. It is home to Silvercup Studios, and shows such as “Quantico,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Daredevil” and “Orange is the New Black” have frequented the store for supplies. Poster board, tape, markers and paint are usually purchased in bulk.
Their online store allows customers to order supplies from anywhere in the country and online prices are usually cheaper, according to Sparks. Materials for online purchases are shipped from the flagship store in Maine.
Employees will also stock up on supplies that specific artists need. If a customer is working on a project and needs a unique item for a sustained period of time, Jussen will work with the artist to coordinate shipments.
Anxiety has risen among local artists about the rising rents for studios and Sparks has heard chatter about artists moving further out into Queens or, in some instances, Brooklyn for more affordable space.
“In the beginning it was, ‘We can get studio space out here and now I’m hearing more and more, ‘I’m going farther out into Queens,'” Sparks said. “Even Greenpoint seems a little but cheaper for people studio-wise.”
But Artist & Craftsman Supply has continued to give out discounts and hopes to foster a stronger relationship with the Long Island City community. They’ve donated supplies to the local YMCA and Sunnyside Gardens Park and have donated poster board to those participating in the Women’s March on Washington.
“I think [people are] just really happy to have a source of materials and supplies much closer than they normally would,” Jussen said. “We’ve had strong reaction from the families in Sunnyside and we do try to reach out to the community and sort of make sure they’re aware that were a resource for them.”
If you are interested in teaching a class or asking a question about supplies, visit the Artist & Craftsman Supply website.