Since moving into the Willow Festival shopping center in March, Christina Bate's has enjoyed a level of foot traffic and exposure she wasn't seeing at the previous location of Carillon Square in Glenview.
Today, the gallery holds the largest collection of original art in the North Shore, and the second largest in Chicago. Chris's husband, Scott Bates, helps manage certain business aspects of his wife's gallery. The two have been married for 11 years. They met at the gallery when he came in to frame a flag.
Recently, Patch sat down with Chris and Scott to find how the North Shore fits into the art world, the history of her business and the kind of art people can expect to find at the gallery.
Patch: What’s the state of art in the North Shore?
Chris: It’s very tied to the housing market, so when the housing market boomed, we were booming. As the housing market fell, we slowed down as well. What I’m finding now, even though there’s not that much building going on, people waited a little while — we were really quiet during the last half of 2008 and 2009 — but it’s coming back because people have either waited so long that they’re ready to do something in their homes again, or they’re putting on some additions, or they’re just freshening up. They’re not going to move because they’re going to get killed on their house.
The North Shore is pretty savvy, they care about how their homes look. They’re really up with the latest colors and trends, so I would say art is probably a more important aspect in their life than a lot of other things. I have a lot of people who just come in and appreciate the arts, who just love to come in and take it in. People in the North Shore are a more sensitive group, they’re very much in tune with the latest fashions and the latest interiors and art falls into that. They want big contemporary pieces or they want little clusters of things, depending on what they start seeing in the trends in the magazines.
Our business, because it’s been around so long has the advantage of having a very loyal clientele. I’ve got, in some cases, third generations coming in, because their parents and their grandparents really trusted us and liked our business. Sometimes people are in their early 20s and because they’ve been around art their whole lives it’s really important to them. So they may not be able to afford an expensive piece, but they really want something real, so we sell them a little etching or something kind of small, but they get really excited about it because it’s the real thing, a real artist did it, it didn’t come from a catalogue.
Patch: Where does your art come from?
Chris: We get art from all over the world. We have seven different art brokers who represent about 75 different artists. And my art brokers are anywhere from the West Coast to the East Coast to down south, so they collect the art from the artists they represenent, then they show it to me and I pick and choose what I want from those groups of artists. So they do all of the hunting. In the case of European artists, a lot of European artists don’t speak English, [the brokers] do all the navigating of getting the work through customs, making the business arangements with the artist who may only speak French or may only speak German and get the work into the United States.
I don’t get art from people walking through the door and saying ‘can you buy my old stuff?’ or ‘I’m a great artist would you carry my work?’ It just doesn’t happen that way. We’re pretty picky, and we have a certain look to the kind of work that we think will sell and I buy a real variety, I don’t buy just contemporary or just traditional. I just buy what I think is good work and at a good value. There’s not too many pieces in here that are over $5,500, we try to keep the work in what we consider a more reasonable pricing range.
Patch: What is that price range?
Chris: For paintings it probably starts at $1000, and there’s a few pieces, tiny little pieces that are under that, but for the most part our work is between $1000 and $5500, for one of a kind oils. Our paper art, etchings silk screens, lithographs, that’s in a much lower price range and it can anywhere between $150 and $850, depending on the artist and what piece you’re looking at.
Scott: There’s sort of three categories of art. There’s reproduction art, it’s on paper or it could even be on canvas, and that’s at the lowest price point. Then there’s a middle group, which would probably be called decorative art, but it’s all original, one of a kind, sort of $2000 to $5000 price points, maybe up to $8000. Then there’s the highly collectable, big name art, typically sold at auction or the big galleries in New York or San Francisco. And there you can easily get into high five-figure, six-figure, and for the outrageously popular ones, seven and eight digits. Chris’s wheel house is $2000 to $5000, original one of a kind art that sort of speaks to the buyer. There’s something about it, either the subject matter or the style or whatever sort of grabs the person who says ‘I’ve got to have this one.’
Patch: Have you ever sold a piece by an artist that an average reader might recognize?
Chris: They tend to be in such a high price range... We carry Rembrandt etchings. Rembrandt did his etchings back in the 1600s, so these are printed from the original plates but they’re not done by Rembrandt here and now. We’ve had some print making done by named artists because print making is multiples and hence you don’t pay as high a price as opposed to a one of a kind and oils. So we’ve had Renoir etchings, Matisse. I don’t carry movie stars or big name people. We do have some artists who’ve we've carried for so long that they’re up in their 80s now. We carry Erich Paulsen, who’s from Munich, Germany, we’ve carried his work for a long time, he’s still painting at age 88. Some of these artists ours have collected over time and they’ll add a piece here and there, and they’re happy that the artists are still painting.
Patch: The Art Post Gallery has had a few homes over the years, what brought you to Northbrook?
Chris: It started out in Northbrook in 1980, I bought the business from someone who owned the store since 1972, and at the time he had the store as art supplies, and then he added framing. When I bought it from him in 1980, I kept the framing, got rid of the art supplies, and added original art and art restoration. Then in 1987, downtown Northbrook was going through a redevelopment, and our building was condemned. They ended up tearing the building down and redeveloping that area, so we moved to Carillon Square, in Glenview, in 1987, and made it more of a half and half. Half gallery, half framing, so we put more emphasis on the art at that point because we had more room. We went from a tiny, tiny little store, to what we thought back then was huge. It was 1107 square feet. That was a big jump for us at the time.
Carillon Square was a really thriving little shopping center at the time. We had a lot of Ma and Pa stores, and so it was known not as just a strip center, it was known as a unique little individual, Williamsburg-style shopping center. Instead of being all chain stores, it was all individual little stores and that’s changed over the years as small businesses have gone out, Coldwell Banker has gone in and taken a big area. Blockbuster went in and took a big area. So that’s changed a little bit and they’ve fallen on hard times.
Scott: We had one intervening expansion in 2005, we took over a Long Grove Confectionary space, we went from about 1100 square feet to about 2700. That’s when it really became a full-fledged gallery. So basically, the transaction here is, we’ve got the same amount of square footage, we’re paying more per foot in return for better traffic.
Chris: Exposure is so much better here. The restaurants are keeping the shopping center busy at night. We also liked that there are still some independent little stores in this center, which I think gives it some flavor.
Patch: Did you ever consider moving somewhere other than Northbrook
Scott: We talked about Northfield and we almost moved there in 2008, we were becoming increasingly disenchanted with Carillon Square, and we ran into a snag in the lease negotiations, which turned out to be fortuitous because we would have moved in within 10 days of Leiman Brothers hitting the wall in September of 2008, which would have been a pretty bad time to move. We got lucky, so we’ve looked around, but this is actually the best of all worlds. She retains her Glenview customers and about 50 percent of her client-base is along the lake — Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, even up to Lake Forest. There’s a lot of people coming down Willow Road to shop at this shopping center, so people are out this way anyway. Even though it’s a very short distance from Willow down to Carillon Square, people just don’t turn a left and go into Glenview. It turns out to be the perfect solution for us because of her existing client base.
I keep saying “her,” this her business. I come over here to borrow lunch. I help a little bit on the marketing and business side, I worry about stuff like insurance and advertising, we have a very active mail list, about 14,600 people. Everybody gets a postcard about once every two months, it’s the old story — you have to tell them three times before they hear it the first time. And so, she’s actually had people walk in with a handful of four or five of these, that have accumulated on their refrigerator, and all of a sudden the need hits and they have something to frame or they’ve got a spot that they’ve been concerned about over their couch or over a fireplace. So finally the mood moves and they come in, but it takes steady, repetitious reminders that she exists.
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