Across the checkout counter at Harlem Art Galleries stands a stool where loyal and regular customers found a seat to get their final frame orders in place at a business that is closing after 37 years.
Chris Germond, owner of Harlem Art Galleries, 7239 W. Roosevelt Road in Forest Park, explained how her regular customers entered her store this week and sat on the seat she’s coined “the crying stool.”
“It’s the crying stool, this stool next to my counter — they come sit and ask me, ‘Where will I go now?’ And they cry,” said Germond, 67, who closed her framing business May 31. She said the economy and bad business in the area caused her to pack up here materials and head into retirement.
“I’m doing half of the work I did five years ago, and I’m making about 60 percent less in sales than some of my best years,” said Germond, who lives in Oak Park. Sales and customers have been declining at an alarming rate since 2003. She opened the current Forest Park location in 2001 after previously vacating two other spaces in Chicago and Oak Park.
According to Germond, the business model for framing has changed. Germond said people are buying imported pictures, which are already framed or less expensively framed with plastic molds.
“It’s a real dinosaur business I run here. I do the entire saw cutting and framing myself. I have the wooden molds in stock. Most places people go to now take an order and they have the frames cut elsewhere. They just piece it together. I do all that myself.”
Germond first entered the business more than 30 years ago after she graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago with a master’s degree in art. She started the business with a partner who retired 13 years ago, and Germond said it’s now her time to follow suit. She’d like to get back to her first love: painting with acrylics.
According to Cook County Assessor records, Germond sold the building for $302,000 to Midwest Realty Group. She had bought the building in 2001 for around $200,000. The structure is part of a new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district overlay that the village of Forest Park hopes will spur development in the Roosevelt Road corridor.
Germond held a clearance sale this past week but still expects to have materials and items that will go unsold.
“I’ll donate as much as I can, but even then you’re surprised when you donate that people don’t want it,” Germond said. “It’s a hard thing to see 37 years of accumulated things and think that it’s going to have to be put in the dumpster and no one gets to appreciate it.”