Pearl Paint from Broadway by César Gonzalez Palomo
Image: César Gonzalez Paloma
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Why TriBeCa’s Legendary Art Supply Store Pearl Paint Closed Its Last Door This Year

Pearl Paint from Broadway by César Gonzalez Palomo
Image: César Gonzalez Paloma

O

ver ten years ago, I was a design student commuting from Downtown Jamaica (Queens) to Canal Street Station in preparation of earning a college degree as a Graphic Designer to work for the very media conglomerates I’m working with now, as a Journalist. Before that milestone, I was an Art & Design major at a high school located in East Elmhurst who lived in Jamaica where we (who were interested in art) were without a local art supply store to purchase items from (and we are still without one), so Pearl Paint was the only sensible option for me. Pearl Paint seemed to have everything but as much as I like to travel and as much as I loved to ride the E train from its first stop to a stop short of its last stop, in recollection, I didn’t really enjoy my experiences at Pearl Paint, in-store and online.

*Whilst many others will view this article and see it as a negative subjectivity about one of New York City’s most legendary art meccas or landmarks much like the 5 Pointz, I can only tell this story through my personal encounters. Stay with me and hear me out, if you have tough skin and you know what a flying buttress is.

Here’s why I believe Pearl Paint is no longer with us:

As much as I would have liked to check-in on Foursquare, or I would have liked to text a fellow artist to brag about that amazing stretched gesso I just purchased from Pearl Paint at half price, I didn’t. Painstakingly, our beloved art store (once with a few offshoot nearby locations on Lispenard Street) did not truly join the rest of us in our new world of Digital Media, (Online) Direct Sales Marketing and Crowdfunding.

Website:

From what I remember, Pearl’s website (like most art store websites) was really hard to navigate because its menu and site fonts being microscopic. As the site loaded, there wasn’t a real sense of focus either. I couldn’t be tricked into impulse buying even if I wanted to and in my opinion, that’s a grand failure for a retail business. As an online customer and someone who has a trained eye for good design, I didn’t want or feel the need to return to their website, so I didn’t. And in time, the same happened with being a walk-in at their flagship location on Canal Street.

For crying out loud, pearlpaint.com still has a moving marquee at the bottom of its homepage! (Kindly see your browser’s status bar or the image below)

Pearl Paint's website
Can you see the marquee?

Location:

Aside from having to ignore the groups of African men who will inevitably try to sell miscellaneous things to you and if all doesn’t go well, asking for your hand in marriage is the next best business venue, you might have to ignore middle-aged Asian women who will walk up close to you and halfway whisper the name of a designer bag, in hopes of fetching your interests — if interested — this might require your presence and your money in a scary underground passageway somewhere off of Canal and Broadway to get the goods.

For the times, it’s in a weird location. The truth is most of the cool kids who like to party and socialize, musicians, artists and college kids don’t stay in TriBeCa or really have the need to come to Canal Street. They’re all across the water in Brooklyn: Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Williamsburg. And to add to that disappointment, tourists aren’t really looking to purchase art supplies when they’re on vacation.

During the early 2000s, when I was in there like I worked there, it was welcoming. At times, there was a sense of perfunctory and irritation. I wish I was certain as to why, but I chalked it up to being a young student. Wanna know why? Because a large percentage of my peers stole at least 25% of their art supplies from Pearl Paint. They just couldn’t afford it.

In all fairness to the business as a business person, I’m not sure Pearl Paint could cut down the prices on art supplies for many reasons (shipping, customs, etc.), but from what I remember, items were expensive for the average art student at that time. We were coming out of a recession that began two years prior.

In hindsight, as an adult and a previous consumer, I can say that I wish there was more of a ‘community’ for all art students that shopped at Pearl. Perhaps, students would have felt like they belonged to something and they would think twice about stealing art supplies from one of the most well-stocked locations in Manhattan. A location that the young artist in us will have to now be without.

Education, Internet Phenomena:

As we’ve progressed into the future during the mid-’00s, our academic interests as creative humans have changed, especially in Entertainment and so did the necessary tools to execute. So unless you’re majoring in a field that requires fundamental ideas such as design elements and principles, unfortunately, a place like Pearl Paint is not really a necessity to you.

Over the years, I’ve seen ads on my Twitter timeline and my Facebook newsfeed from Pearl’s competitors (Blicks, Michael’s and Utrecht) but none from Pearl. Pearl didn’t truly change with the times. It remained traditional without a plan to compete in a new world.

Pearl Paint exit on Lispenard Street by moon man82
Image: mooman82

Things I’ll miss:

Hearing the creaks in the wooden floors.
Reading those interesting squares of information pinned to the bulletin near the elevator.
Riding the elevator and looking at myself in that old security camera.
Walking through the back door on Lispenard Street.
Testing various Staedtler pencils to find the right one before drafting a portrait of someone who (or something) I fell in love with that week.

You should also know that Pearl Paint, as of today, only has 877 Twitter followers — I’m not one of them — and their last Tweet reads:


GRUNGECAKE

Written by Richardine Bartee

It’s her unprejudiced love for people that’s taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs.

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