America’s Oldest Art Supply Store Closes After 111 Years

"We just had too much going against us."

New York Central Art Supply Inc. Courtesy of Google Maps.
New York Central Art Supply Inc. Courtesy of Google Maps.

After over a century of operation, New York Central Art Supply Inc., which bills itself as the oldest art supply store in the country, will permanently shutter on September 2.

“Retail operations have been losing money for several years in a row now, and our family has been forking up the money to keep it open,” Doug Steinberg, whose late father and aunt ran the business, told artnet News over the phone. “But even if the property wasn’t sold, there was a very high likelihood that it would have closed between now and the end of the year anyway. It was a perfect storm of bad things happening.”

The store is located in New York City’s historic East Village neighborhood, on the corner of 11th Street and 3rd Avenue. Steinberg recalled growing up during a time in New York when “every neighborhood had its own art supply store.” Now, as one of the remaining independently-owned shops, Steinberg admits that larger chains and internet sales have driven down business.

Despite rumors of real estate developers that plan on turning the lot into a luxury site, Steinberg said that he doesn’t have knowledge of who purchased the building.

New York Central Art Supply Inc. Courtesy of Google Maps.

New York Central Art Supply Inc. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Only two independently-owned supply shops in Manhattan remain: SoHo Art Materials, a 25-year-old specialty store, which opened a second location in Brooklyn’s Buswhick neighborhood last summer; and DaVinci Artist Supply, which opened its first location in Gramercy in 2005. Illinois-based Dick Blick Art Materials, a rival chain, currently occupies five locations in Manhattan, as well as an additional five Utrecht Art Supply Stores, which the company acquired in 2013.

Mark Bieri, DaVinci Artist Supply’s outreach and publicity manager, told artnet News in a phone conversation that locals, who have seen mainstays like Pearl Paint and Lee’s Art Shop close in recent years, are taking issue with the news. “It’s a frequent complaint,” Bieri said. “You hear people who have been from New York saying the city’s turning into an outdoor mall. The character of the city is changing, and I think the bigger picture of it is distressing for any small business.”

According to Bieri, clients of New York Central Art Supply Inc, who have come to rely on the business’s reputation for carrying specialty papers, have been reaching out to DaVinci Art Supply since news of the shop’s closing was first announced in July. “They were famous for their papers, so we’re going to start to pick up that demand,” Bieri said. “I think the emphasis for us now is to try to underscore the fact that we’re an independent [store].”

Steinberg believes that there’s still a future for smaller mom-and-pop shops in the business. “If somebody wanted to have a smaller operation and specialize, I still think it could succeed. We just had too much going against us to make it happen ourselves.”

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