When our pop up gallery 2 Royal Parade came to an end in Oct 2018 we were firmly of the view that our days as gallery owners were probably well and truly over.
With its big window, huge space and much talked about “dandelion” graphic, it was a place we’d come to love in three short months. No other property came close to a match in terms of square footage, natural light or passing trade. And besides, we just couldn’t afford the going rent.
With shop after shop closing on the high street all the indicators told us to hang up the keys and refocus back online.
It was against this backdrop that we reluctantly arranged one last visit to another shop further along on the same parade. A place that even the agent described as having received “little interest to date”. Before we’d even stepped over the threshold I was convinced it was no good – just too dark, too much work to do and way too many showers.
But as our viewing continued we both became equally silent. Behind the tired old beauty rooms with its heavy purple flock wallpaper and ugly suspended ceiling was a big new space just waiting to be opened up. Just like our pop-up, No 8 did indeed have an original corniced ceiling (albeit painted black), which accompanied other equally beautiful features such as an original sash window complete with wooden shutters (covered with old nets) and Edwardian tiles, that by happy coincidence matched the colour of our own logo.
It would take blood, sweat and tears but this felt like it was meant to be. It was certainly the space we’d been looking for. All we had to do was convince the landlord…
Roll on nine months and it looked increasingly unlikely this baby would ever be born. With virtually no track record and a new business to boot, we had virtually no bargaining power against a Goliath of a landlord, who had his own operations director and seemed to own half of York.
From dealing with property agents, and the council to (continually warring) lawyers, an architect, building control and – who would have thought – an award-winning, Morris dancing structural engineer, everyone was hugely friendly but absolutely nothing was straight-forward.
On the day I got the keys I sat in a neighbouring café – Hoxton North – feeling a huge sense of anti-climax and anxiety about the whole thing. Fortunately, Tim (of Hoxton fame) didn’t allow me an ounce of self regret. “This is the best space EVER” he enthused when I showed him round. “Make sure you get lots of pictures so you can look back on what you are about to create”.
It was exactly what we needed. Work began.
Our first skip arrived – the first of six – closely followed by Trevor, Niall and electrician Chris – who promptly set off the fire alarm on his first day, just as 100 language students turned over an exam paper on the first floor above.
Arguably the best tradesmen any project could hope for, the presence of this trio continued to lift our spirits throughout the whole refurbishment. Never having managed a commercial project like this before, there were so many decisions to make about things I had absolutely no idea about, from the width of supporting walls and the spec for a steel beam, to the angle of a waste pipe and the correct height of the floor. Very quickly we adopted the phrase “If in doubt, just ask Trevor”, as our multi-skilled joiner/builder became our “go-to” person for help with nearly every aspect of work – including how to navigate a skip past a Bentley and fending off prospective window cleaners. We may have had an idea of what we wanted to create but it was the hard work, skill and dedication of these guys – often out of hours – that really made it happen.
Let there be light
And then there was the lighting. Everyone knows that a gallery needs good lighting, but who knows their way through the mind-field that is three-way tracks, baffles and barn doors? Fortunately Tracy Levine did. Very helpfully our new artist friend Tracy had just built a beautiful new artist’s studio in Cumbria, complete with suspended lighting system and she was happy to recommend her supplier, Mr Resistor. So once we’d established that electrician Chris was safely down his ski slope and back up his ladder without breaking a leg, our lighting was finally installed and a final date set for opening.
As our project neared completion we were aware time was getting quite tight when Trevor started writing a list of jobs still to be done; fitting a new kitchen, new flooring, fire doors, making furniture (just one table, three sets of shelving, a couple of cupboards, an ever changing shop counter and a spectacular two step window shelf).
Determined to meet our self-imposed deadline of 24th February we spent the entire weekend prior to opening cleaning and painting, hanging and displaying work delivered the week before by our 40 artists and makers.
On Monday the 24th – three months after starting the refurbishment – we did indeed open our doors. Not quite a textbook launch, but given the heavy snowfall during the night we felt a certain sense of pride at a midday opening. And by 1pm we’d sold five paintings and a ceramic vase to a lovely couple who said “We’ve been waiting for you to open”. A hugely unexpected first day but hopefully – COVID-19 notwithstanding – the most auspicious start our new gallery could have hoped for.
With grateful thanks to our team; Trevor Paterson (joiner and builder, Knaresborough), Niall Bower (plumbing and heating, Knaresborough), Chris Pearson (electrician, Barnsley) and Simon Yeadon (decorator, Harrogate). You were all brilliant and we are eternally grateful.