Saturday February 2, 2013

ANDREW ROITER

Arts Editor

BENNINGTON -- Jay Zwynenburg, is about as rooted in one town as any person can be. Plenty of businesses boast a long and storied history, but Jay’s Art Shop and Frame Gallery in downtown Bennington stands out. It is at once classic and modern without compromising either.

"We always seem to be making changes," Zwynenburg said. "Everybody in this business and industry knows you can’t keep doing the same thing year after year."

The store updates seasonally to replace products. As of now the Christmas fare has gone on the 50 percent off shelf to make room for Valentine’s Day and Easter things. Zwynenburg will often go to arts shows all over the country to find new products to carry in his store.

With that said, one can’t shake the classic small town vibe that the store gives off.

"We try to keep the same customer service, greeting people, acknowledging their presence and practice good customer relations," Zwynenburg said.

Jay’s puts a special focus on being a member of the community and providing arts supplies to customers for their entire lives.

"We’ve had some customers that go back to the late ‘70s Š and the nice thing about being a smaller store in a nice hometown like Bennington we’ve not only handled their grandparents, their parents and now we have another generation. In some cases we have two and in some cases, rare cases, we have three generations shop at our store Š We have customers that come in and say ‘I was just a little kid when I first came in here.’"

Gesturing to a wall of brightly colored art supplies many of which prominently featured the words "non-toxic," Zwynenburg, said "This is for our future customers; we’re always bringing them up. It’s like the minor leagues, the farm leagues; we’ve got to have them coming up."

The building

"I’ve always wanted to own my own building," Zwynenburg said.

He and his wife Joan moved the business from Main Street to 115 South St. in 1981. The pair has worked to make sure that the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is maintained. Jay pointed to the bannisters leading to the upstairs art gallery, which were installed in 1860 and are sturdy and usable to this day.

Jay’s boasts a reputation as the largest arts supply store in Vermont, which attracts business from all over the region.

"A lot of people do come in and say ‘when we’re passing through we always make a point to come to your store,’" Zwynenburg said.

One couple, Mari and Richard Cherry, had come to Jay’s to get their wedding Ketubah, a traditional Jewish wedding contract often preserved as a memento.

Zwynenburg pointed out all of the details of the finished framed Ketubah, including a certification of the quality of the glass.

"When you celebrate your wedding anniversary you can look at it and it will be the same color," Zwyenburg said.

Mari Cherry, who has been coming to Jay’s since moving to the area eight years ago recommended the business for its variety and fun atmosphere.

The process

Toward the back of the shop there is an unassuming door adorned with a cross-stitch informing guests that the Wizard is at work. The wizard is the chief framer at Jay’s, the name taken from the machine that helps design each of the framing jobs.

Eight years ago, Zwynenburg gave up the title of Wizard to Ron Kuust, a bespectacled man in casual attire, whose shirt pocket drooped with the weight of several pens and markers sitting there for easy access.

The process itself involves Zwynenburg working directly with clients on the main floor to pick out a type of frame from a selection and plan out how they would like the finished piece to look. From there the design moves to a secondary computer downstairs in the workshop attached to the Wizard machine. There all the fine details are hammered out and the actual framing goes to Kuust, who has been framing since 1971. 

Just as the shop upstairs needs to be updated as new and better supplies come out, so does the workshop downstairs. One change is the addition of acid-free paper to prevent yellowing. Another big change is the type of glass: what might appear as a small difference between the amount of UV rays blocked by newer types of glass, in this case a change from 97 percent blocking to 99 percent, is actually huge considering the framing process expects to protect the paintings and photos for all time. A two percent reduction over the course of decades can be the difference between severely faded and barely faded.

"Once it fades we can’t reverse it but we can prevent it from fading further," Zwynenburg, said.

To learn more about Jay’s Art Shop and Frame Gallery, visit http://www.jaysartshop.com.

Andrew Roiter can be reached at aroiter@benningtonbanner.com, follow him on Twitter @banner_arts.