Max's personifies the 'art' of survival in changing business model
Published 8:04 am, Monday, January 13, 2014
For those who prefer the personal touch to online shopping, there's a longstanding art store and framing shop in the center of Westport that still caters to the shopper in person.
Max's Art Supplies, which has operated under that name for more than 40 years but has an even longer history, is still doing things the old-fashioned way. With its original ownership and a veteran staff, Max's has eschewed online sales in order to play to its strength -- direct guidance.
"We have a knowledgeable staff and interesting things to talk about," said owner Shirley Mellor. "There's a personal interest here."
A stationery store was already in operation at this location when Mellor's late husband, Max Kaplan, an entrepreneur from New York City, bought it in 1956. He renamed it Fine Arts Stationers, and while that remains the little-known official name, it began doing business as Max's in the early 1970s, Mellor said, when art and framing became its focus.
"We just decided that it was Max's store and everybody thought of it as Max's Art Supplies," she said.
"Families have been coming here for years," said manager Nina Royce, who began working at the store in 1969.
"This is a community that focuses on art," she said. "Whether they're doing it professionally or not, art's very important to them."
Ann Chernow of Westport, a well-known artist and art instructor, has been frequenting the store for decades.
"You meet other artists there and it just doesn't feel like shopping," she said. "It feels like home."
Max's, which has a reputation as supporting students and emerging artists, is a colorful store inside. There is a concentration of various materials throughout -- heaps of different art supplies in the range of mediums, along with a wide variety of framing options.
"We can really tailor our buying to our customer's needs," Royce said. "We carry unusual items that bigger stores might not carry."
"We have everything from the basic craft, right up to professional material," said framer Jay Cimbak, who has worked at Max's for 28 years and is one of 3,800 officially certified framers in the country.
He said the framing portion of the business caters to everything from children's artwork to priceless heirlooms and artifacts.
"The computer made a huge difference in our business," Mellor said, citing the decrease in art studios and marketing companies that worked offline.
"It's changed drastically from the time I've been here," she said. "We can't compete with the computers, but we are personal."
Max's Art Supplies is at 68 Post Road East. Find out more at www.maxsartsuppliesct.com