Beloved local art store Art Materials LLC moving to Detroit Lakes

A Minneapolis institution is heading out for greener pastures as Art Materials LLC, moves its storefront from Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and continues its online business. Owners Larry and Joann Brown live in Detroit Lakes, and for many years have been commuting between the two cities, spending weekdays in Minneapolis and driving back home on weekends. 

“We will change some of the flavor because Art Materials in Detroit Lakes is not Minneapolis where you’ve got millions of people around,” Larry Brown tells me. 

“People from the ’burbs aren’t coming here anymore,” Joan Brown says. “We used to get people on weekends, but not anymore. Now we just get online sales.” 

After selling their building to Huge Improv Theater a year ago, Art Materials continued as a tenant of the building in the intervening months. Now, they’ve put in notice to end their lease as they prepare for their next chapter. 

A variety of factors — from the impact of Amazon on small businesses, city politics, and personal circumstances edged the scales toward the relocation. Now the business is hosting a sale as it trims its inventory while it readies for the move. 

Some online confusion occurred on April 9 after the business made its announcement. Their Facebook post originally began, “WE’VE LOST OUR LEASE” making it seem to some that the business was being forced out. Instead, the urgency had to do with complying with a 1031 exchange. 

Basically, a 1031 exchange is when you swap one real estate property for another, allowing for capital gains taxes to be deferred. “The reality is we had the ability to stay,” Larry Brown said. “We had almost nine months to try and figure out where we’re gonna go, but in that time, there were time constraints because of the 1031 property exchange that we had to play by, but we really didn’t know what we’re going to do until just recently.”

“We should have said, ‘Our lease has ended and we are moving,” Joann Brown said of the Facebook post, which has now been changed to say, “WE ARE CLOSING OUR STORE!” 

Art Materials originally opened in 1956 and has been in various locations around Minneapolis. Before it moved to its current location in 1994, it was located at the spot where Up-Down Arcade Bar is now. The Browns bought the business in 2001, and in 2013, bought out a rival art store, Penco. 

Before that, the Browns had spent many years in the industry already. Larry Brown got a degree in Industrial Technology and has a masters in Graphic Design. He met Joann at Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University Moorhead), and ran an art supply distribution business for many years out of Fargo, before first buying The Art Store in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1999 with another partner and buying Art Materials in 2001. 

From the beginning, the business has had an online aspect, but the force of Amazon has instigated tremendous change in the industry. 

“We’ve seen it coming for years,” Brown says. “Amazon originally when they were in their infancy wanted us to put our products online. They came to us and they came to a number of people in our industry and said, ‘Give us your database and put it online.’” At first, Art Materials resisted, but they did begin to work with Amazon starting in 2010, when they opened a location at a historic theater in Fargo. “They are not going away, and nobody cares until your business is affected,” Brown says of the corporation. 

Art Materials’ plan to downsize has been in the works for quite a few years, actually. Way back in 2012, they had a plan in place to sell their building to Trader Joe’s, and move down the street to where Huge Theater was before they became Art Materials’ landlord. 

“That was our first experience with city politics. It all imploded,” Larry Brown says. 

Over 10 years later, the couple is finally planning to operate their business where they actually live, “where there are mushrooms in the summer,” Joann Brown says. They’ll be near their son, who also runs a business in Detroit Lakes, and plan to see what operating an art store in a vacation town might look like. 

It certainly is a loss for artists and crafts people here in Minneapolis. “It’s a shame to not be able to go to a store and find a knowledgeable person,” says local sculptor Jack Pavlik. “It’s emblematic of a disruptive economy where online is eroding brick and mortar companies.” 

Erin Sayer, a local painter and muralist, is also sad to see them go. She’s been going to Art Materials since she moved to the Twin Cities in 2001. “It’s so nice to be able to walk to the art store and support a local business instead of a big company,” she says. “I’m going to miss them a lot.” 

If you want to load up on discounted sketchbooks, paints, and other art supplies, stop by the store, located at 2728 Lyndale Avenue this month. Their hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Check their Facebook account for updates. 

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities-based arts journalist. She writes MinnPost’s twice-weekly Artscape column. She can be reached at [email protected].

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