Six years ago Brenda Watkins and a few of her friends were thrilled to land a short-term lease for a Harrison Street storefront in Oak Park where they could sell their paintings. For a month during that holiday shopping season, the women showcased their own pieces, along with works from about a dozen others, and enjoyed a steady stream of business.
The response was so good in fact that Watkins and company decided to try it again the following year. This time they recruited a few more artists. For five years the local artists from Out of the Box, the name they’ve given their roving storefront, expanded their customer base and their list of participating artists.
Beginning Nov. 28, Out of the Box will be on Madison in Forest Park with its largest collection from more than 30 artists. Located in a recently renovated storefront, the group has moved its operation to Forest Park for the first time and will be in business only until Dec. 23.
“We talked about being on Madison for a couple years, but we didn’t have the contacts,” Jan Anderson, another of the store’s founding artists, said.
Carol Richardson-O’Brien and Mary Jo Parker O’Hearn round out the original foursome. Each still showcases their work in the seasonal store, which features such mediums as painting, jewelry and sculpture.
After spending the first three years on Harrison, then a couple years in a crumbling storefront on Lake Street, Out of the Box has moved its show out of Oak Park. The move is part strategy and part necessity, according to Watkins.
“It’s where we can find a place,” Watkins said of each year’s location. “It has to be affordable.”
Forest Park’s retail strip has also been a hotbed of trendy shops and upscale eateries in recent years, and the group sees the potential for new customers here.
“The street itself has just blossomed,” Parker O’Hearn said.
One of the forces behind that trend is restaurateur and property developer Art Sundry, who recently completed rehabbing the space at 7415 Madison. Parker O’Hearn has spent the last two years working at clothier Deedee and Edee, which just relocated to Sundry’s building. That was just the sort of contact Out of the Box needed.
“He loved the idea of what we were doing,” Watkins said.
Sundry rehabbed the storefront at 7415 Madison into two narrower spaces so that two separate business owners would have an opportunity to open shop on one of the hottest blocks in the area. The shape won’t work for every business, said Sundry, but for a clothing store or art gallery it’s well suited.
A single-month lease doesn’t make much sense from a business standpoint, said Sundry, but he was interested in hosting the temporary gallery for a few reasons. With retailers on Madison hitting the critical shopping season as the economy slumps, Sundry said the gallery could generate some needed foot traffic.
“I thought it was more a gesture for the street,” Sundry said.
With Deedee and Edee occupying the similarly-styled space next door to the gallery, the temporary business may help Sundry land a permanent tenant.
“When they were both empty they kind of looked like bowling lanes,” Sundry said.
Out of the Box is open six days a week, from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.