This is a memoir from a local author, John Griffith, who owned and ran an art gallery in the High Street for five years. This is his story of that time in his life. We’ll post it here in seven weekly chapters.
Two young women left the building next door. Giggling, clinging to each other, they weaved their erratic way towards me as I watched from the top of my ladder.
‘What’s it gonna be?’ It was the blonde, her upturned, flushed face level with my ankles; full of good spirits, I thought to myself, a little enviously.
‘A gallery; pictures, ceramics, that sort of thing,’ I replied cheerfully. From my high vantage point, paintbrush in hand, I had a good view of her ample cleavage. Suddenly, painting the outside of my new premises seemed altogether less of an effort.
‘Great. We’ll be there. Soon as you open.’ This from the older brunette, over her shoulder, as they jollied their way up the High Street, on who-knew-what mission. Watching them disappear, I felt quite pleased with myself. My first ‘plug’ for the gallery; and prospective clients already.
Perhaps it had been just as well that I had had no idea what starting a new business, single-handedly, had involved when I replied to the short item in the local paper. The City Council were looking for people to take over empty premises in the nearby Town’s High Street, on short leases, while they considered what to do with them in the long term.
I had negotiated a five-year lease at a ‘pepper-corn’ rent but the building itself would be my responsibility, needing a good deal of TLC having been empty for so long. An old butcher’s shop, it was spacious and in the centre of the High Street. I had considered the location ideal for my purpose and had worked enthusiastically at renovating the property.
‘You appreciate what your taking on, here?’ the Manager on the City Council responsible for allocating leases had queried. ‘You’ll be committed to a five year lease, not a day longer, not a day shorter.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of that,’ I’d replied, in all innocence. ‘But I look on it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I can make a go of it. If it works, I can think of opening up somewhere else when the five years is up.’
‘There is something else you ought to know before you commit yourself,’ the Manager continued. ‘Under the terms of the agreement you must have a toilet installed at the rear of the premises to meet modern regulations; and there’s a family living in the flat above provided by Social Services. Because of that, you will have to brick up the existing doorway within the premises which provides access from the shop to the first floor. They have their own entrance to the flat at the back of the shop.’
This extra construction work came as an unwanted surprise. Already on an extremely limited budget, I was now going to have to find a builder who would carry out the work at a reasonable price. However, there was no way I was going to let the news dampen my burning ambition to have my own gallery, my own business. I had the bit between my teeth, eagerly signed the lease and almost skipped out of the Council Offices.
It had seemed providential that this opportunity had come about at almost the exact moment we had moved into the town. I was a total stranger, not only to running a business, but to the town itself. All I knew about it was that it seemed to have all the facilities needed to raise my young family but I realized I would also need to make business connections as quickly as possible.
As far as my experience in the Art world was concerned, I had been studying fine art for a number of years but had quickly realized that there were very much better Artists and Artist-craftsmen who were desperate for somewhere to exhibit their work. The established galleries were just not interested unless you were already a well-known Artist whose work would readily sell; without the opportunity to exhibit in the first place it was almost impossible to get on that ladder. I was setting out to break the mould; I would give unknown, talented artists that I had got to know through my own studies the opportunity to display their work in my gallery.
Apart from renovating and decorating the premises, I planned to make all the display units myself to keep within my budget. I knew exactly what I wanted from my visits to other galleries over the years. A day or so later, a truck pulled onto the pavement in front of the premises laden with the planed timber I had ordered.
Helping the driver off-load and carry the lengths of wood into the empty building where I intended to start on the units the following day, he looked towards the building next door and suddenly remarked, ‘See they’re still there then,’ Seeing my puzzled look, he went on, ‘Oh, didn’t you know? That’s the local brothel.’
Well, I thought, I’ve certainly got a lot to learn about this town. Then I brightened. Must make sure I’ve a few nudes on the walls when I open. Could attract some of the clients from next door.
© John Griffiths 2017