(Above, from left: Grace Santana Cubero, Amir Lyles, Wanda Payne, Andrew Siebert and Mikel Elam)
It would be easy to walk or drive by Artist & Craftsman Supply, down a narrow alleyway and across a herringbone brick courtyard, just off the 7900 block of Germantown Avenue.
Inside this imposing ivy-strewn building of Wissahickon schist is an absolute treasure trove of paints, canvases, sketchbooks, art paper, easels, and more. And if you have kids—or you’re a teacher—there are puzzles, games, masks, origami, puppets, crayons, water coloring books and many other creative items. And we’ve only just scratched the surface.
It’s often said of Kilian’s Hardware up the street that if you can’t find it there, you probably don’t need it. Much the same could describe Chestnut Hill’s sprawling Artist & Craftsman Supply store.
However, as with so many other businesses, the pandemic hit hard. Last week, A&C Chestnut Hill president Rob Dingman dashed off a quick Facebook post, imploring customers to help keep the business going through the summer.
The response, says store manager Mikel Elam, has been gratifying.
Artist & Craftsman Supply is a nationwide chain of 21 outlets, founded by artist Larry Alderstein. The company is what is known as an ESOP—employee stock ownership plan—which means that employees directly benefit from the profits. Philadelphia-area A&C stores, including Chestnut Hill, are falling financially behind, says Elam.
“We have a loan lined up,” Elam says, “but there is a hold on that at the moment. We’re a little bit stretched. We’re looking for help from our customers. Since that post on Facebook, we’ve had an incredible amount of support.”
Specifically, Dingman requested that patrons purchase gift cards. And that’s what customers have been doing in droves.
“Since then, the store has sold about 100 gift cards,” says Elam, himself an artist. “The only other time during the year when gift cards are that popular is the holidays.” (I arrived one morning this week by 11 a.m., by which point the store had already sold 10 gift cards so far that day.)
For the regulars who patronize the store, Arts & Craftsman Supply is an absolute necessity. The customer base is incredibly diverse, says Elam—working artists first and foremost, followed by art students and retired people taking classes, and, especially on the weekends, parents and kids checking out the children’s section.
Thankfully, business seems to be picking up in response to Dingman’s appeal, for which Elam and other staff members are very thankful. “The community is amazing,” he says. “They’re very supportive. They’re happy we’re here.”
Artist & Craftsman Supply, 7926A Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 | 215-248-1513