When Blick Art Materials in Dearborn reopened to the public by appointment on May 26, one of the first customers through the door was legendary Detroit artist (and regular Blick customer) Freddy Diaz, also known as SW Freddy.
"He was like, 'Man, I'm so glad. I was running low on canvases,'" says Matthew Dietz, the store's general manager.
Dietz says the past few months of pandemic-related changes in his business have been a "rollercoaster," as they have for so many. But strong support from the many local artists who patronize the store has helped the business pull through. When the pandemic first hit, the store closed completely and laid off its five staffers until April 27, when Gov. Whitmer's executive order allowed retail businesses to reopen for curbside pickup.
All Blick stores had access to a system that allowed customers to create an online wish list of the items they wanted for curbside pickup, and Dietz says the store's phone was "ringing off the hook."
"We'd be running all over the place trying to keep people on the phone and then dropping people's stuff off when they got there," he says. "For the amount of work, it was very tiring because we were running around a lot more than [if we had been] just helping somebody find what they needed and then checking them out."
Despite the hectic nature of the curbside pickup model, Dietz says he and his staff were "thankful for the business and thankful for people showing respect and making it contactless and letting us do business the way we felt it would be the safest." Since the end of April, he's brought all his staff back to work.
Now that the store's doors have reopened to the public, Dietz says he's "excited at how well we've been doing." Sales have mostly returned to normal, at times exceeding 2019 sales.
"A lot of people are stocking up because they haven't bought any art supplies for a couple months," he says.
The strong sales reflect the fact that the store's regulars have been continuing to do steady business themselves during the pandemic. Dietz says Diaz shared that he's been "surprisingly busy." Another artist said he'd done 38 paintings during the shutdown, and yet another found new work doing high school portrait commissions. Dietz notes that he's still only seen about a third of his regulars since the store reopened, but the others seem to be doing well too based on what he sees in their social media feeds.
Dietz notes that he's still working hard to "catch up on a lot of lost sales," and there's still considerable uncertainty in his store's future. Back-to-school time is always a busy time for the store, and he notes that it's still unclear what that will look like this year depending on when, or if, schools reopen. But at the very least, he's happy to see local artists doing well during a trying time.
"I think for the most part everybody actually had a little bit of an uptick," he says. "... I think a lot of people were staring at their walls and going, 'Oh, man, maybe I'd better have some better artwork up here.'"