Out of the picture Closing: Nyborgs', the downtown art-supply store, will close this summer. The boutique next door, Nouveau, will expand into Nyborgs' former space.

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

Nyborgs' was once a big deal in the local art supply business, with eight people behind its Charles Street counter and gross sales of more than $1 million as recently as 10 years ago, according to owner Genevieve Nyborg. And then computer graphics came along.

"In 1988 it really hit me," said Nyborg, who started the business in 1954 with her husband, Carl, who has died. "I could see it coming, but there was nothing you could do about it. We did good for the period when these materials were used. A lot of our stuff is obsolete now. We can't exist with just art supplies. They no longer make buggy whips anymore, either."

Come August, Nyborgs' will go the way of the buggy whip.

"We love her, and we're all going to miss the store," said Ruth Channing, a printmaker. "It was right downtown, and a lot of artists live downtown. Nyborgs' had a certain feeling, that they liked artists."

The storefront at 517 N. Charles St. -- which dates from the late 1800s and was the local headquarters of Planned Parenthood before Nyborgs' bought the place in 1973 -- will be rented by Nouveau, the boutique next door.

This is good news for the downtown section of Charles Street, which has struggled with empty storefronts, such as the vacancies at Brown's Arcade. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the developers that have headquarters next door, will expand into the second and third floors of the Nyborgs' building. Nyborg will retain ownership of the property.

"Our store is growing, and we thought about opening a second one in Georgetown," said Steve Appel, a partner in Nouveau, which for 10 years has trafficked in quality kitsch. "But we decided to commit to Charles Street. The rents are reasonable and the landlords here are glad to have you. In Georgetown, you're lucky if they take you."

The expanded Nouveau will display more bedding and bigger pieces of furniture, something like a funky Crate & Barrel, according to Appel. He said the move into 3,000 extra square feet is risky. "I can count on my hands and toes the places that have [closed] on Charles Street in the past 10 years," he said. But he expects his loyal following to grow.

Nyborgs' continued to get business from longtime customers, particularly artists, but when computers fundamentally changed the work of illustrators and architects, it wasn't enough.

The advent of the graphic-supply superstores and direct ordering from catalogs also hurt Nyborgs', which, despite strong sales previously, was considered something of a mom-and-pop art shop.

"We're not buying T-squares anymore, but we still buy paper in the same quantities, we still use markers and pencils, and we get a lot of it in volume through mail-order supply houses," said Jim Wheeler, a principal with the Ayers Saint Gross architectural firm.

"But you can't order everything out of a catalog," he added. "Nyborgs' is a great store that reminds me of an old hardware store, the place you go for things no one has or stuff you didn't even know you needed until you walk in and see it and touch it."

Wheeler said he also will miss the beautiful seasonal displays in Nyborgs' glass windows, decorations done for the past 10 years by Thea Osato.

"It's sad for me," said Osato, who especially liked doing back-to-school windows each fall. "And I know it's sad for her. She was teary-eyed telling me about it a few days ago. She didn't want to make the kind of changes it would take to stay current."

Said Nyborg, "If there was any business left here, I'd be trying to catch it, believe me."

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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