On November 17, 2020 we celebrate 17 years of the day I turned that key in the lock to open the door for the first day of business as the new owner of Kensington Art Supply.
The store has a long history starting in the mid 1970’s when the it first opened as Barnes Artist Supply. Ruth Barnes bought the building without even seeing the inside. She drove by and knew that was the location for her. Her son told me this story one day as we were moving the store to a bigger location right next door. He boldly walked through the door and said, “What are you doing with my Mom’s store?”
That store was an amalgamation of about 4 different building dating from the early 1900’s. When I bought the store, we had about 600 square feet of space. There were sky lights in the ceiling and the floors squeaked and there were those lovely bells that tinkled whenever someone opened the door. As I cut my teeth in the art supply business, I knew that we had to expand the number of products that we carried. We needed to stock those “must-have” items on the supply lists we were seeing. Soon we began to run out of space. My husband did some renovations to that space to move the bathroom further back in the store and to remove the full-size water heater. We just needed a heater that fit under the new sink! That gave us almost 300 more square feet of space. Soon the business was thriving and we were running out of space again. We were in that location for 8 years.
One day, as I drove up to the store, I saw brown paper in the windows of the store next door. American Apparel had just closed and after major renovations to that space less than two years before, they were closing. For days, I was dreaming of what a space that size would be like for KAS. Finally, my husband called and asked about the space. A lease was soon negotiated and we moved into the 2,500 square foot location right next door. I remember when we were moving the boxes and the staff and friends were carrying boxes from one door to the next. The business across the street said it looked like a bunch of ants going from one anthill to another.
The bigger location allowed us to grow even more. I was attending art materials trade shows in the US and came back with my head filled with new ideas and new products. While customer service has always been “Job One” at KAS, having a growing selection of quality art supplies was also high up on my list. Having a little more parking at the back of the store helped as well. We were in this location for 3 years when the lease was up for renewal. The new lease costs were going jump too high for my comfort, especially with the upcoming construction of two condos on the old Anthill Fabric and the Carpenter’s Hall sites. You know what construction does to foot traffic on a street and we had already endured 2 years of construction and the reduced business this brought. Without being able to renegotiate the lease, we were forced to move.
While I desperately wanted to keep the store in the NW part of Calgary, I could not find a space that fulfilled my needs of being accessible, had lots of parking, was able to hold at least one teaching studio and had reasonable lease costs. Our leasing agent finally convinced us to look in the south part of Calgary. We walked into the old Irene Besse piano location and I knew from the moment I walked in that this was the space for us! We were looking at 7,000 square feet of space and 220 free parking stalls! All conveniently located at the crossroads of Deerfoot and Glenmore Trails.
Preparing the new space and moving from the old space was a huge undertaking! You know what they say once you’ve moved… I’m never doing THAT again! Well, I hope not to. With this bigger location, we can now carry the kinds of products I had always hoped we could. We are now that one-stop shop for everything creative! Great customer service is still our motto and is how we built what we have today. With two new teaching studios inside the store, we are able to help people find their creative mojo and give them a place to learn.
To all of our customers, vendors, staff and friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for such a great journey!
I’ve always said I have the best job in the world!