Fantasy art / comic illustration 'Store Sweet Store': The Framemakers in Downtown Waterville Maine

Store Sweet Store

© Brian Vigue

The Framemakers, in Downtown Waterville Maine, specializes in custom picture framing. I remember first walking into the store in 1998 with a drawing of a crystal ball lady representing that year's Arts Fest poster. Seeing how the image had become "historic", I wanted to get it preserved forever. Five years later my wife Amy joined the crew, and I became her most difficult customer. Nevertheless, for the sake of our marriage, I didn't shop for frames anywhere else.

Fast-forward to January, 2014; Amy and I bought the shop. We didn't keep the first dollar we made, but for prosperity's sake I do have the e-mail that I got from Amy while still working at Uncle Henry's. She was on a Skyrim kick at the time.

We made a bit of gold

"We made a bit of gold. Here's your share."

I joined the crew in March to replace our outgoing frame builder, and that's when the adventure really began.

Challenging was when at least a dozen friends and neighbors— and one weightlifter— helped muscle a four hundred-pound vacuum press off a truck on Main Street, across the shop's maze of display shelves and support beams, up three steps, and— oh, wait, the machine's too big for that table! So four of us held it in place for what seemed an hour, me at the bottom with my depleting energy and "captain must go down with his ship" mentality, while four others did some last-minute deconstruction, scrambled for tools and supplies, and built a makeshift platform to rest the machine on. Amy even fell through a table! We and some friends stayed until midnight to clean up the place.

Artist reception at the Framemakers

But awesome was when we experienced the fruits of Amy's ingenious plan to take down all the antiques from the walls and replace them with a regularly-rotating art gallery. Our first reception was simple but magical nonetheless. Since then, each reception drew a bigger crowd, we introduced professional wine tasting and live music, and each display has yielded at least one sale of fine art. We continue to have these artist receptions on the first Friday of every other month, and now the whole town talks about them!

Glass broken by a drunk idiot

Challenging was when Amy and I were awaken by a policeman at half past midnight to learn there was damage done to our storefront. After a bit of missing time— I don't even remember the trip into downtown— we witnessed what over five thousand dollars of broken antique glass looks like. We were eased by the fact that the guy was caught and pepper-sprayed mercilessly, and that emergency glass services were on their way. Until around 3am, Amy and I camped out in the upstairs office to watch Down East Dickering (the show brought to us by the place I had just left, Uncle Henry's) while the glass guy took measurements. By the following afternoon, the storefront was completely restored.

Mermaid in a framing competition

But awesome was when I put together my first framing competition piece. With only two months experience in the business, even less experience in the workshop, and a crew too busy to really notice what I was doing, Amy and I scrambled to put this together during some last-minute late hours. It was then I realized how terrible a customer I really am! After a road trip and convention, I brought the piece back home with a ribbon— not a prize but more of a pat on the back to say that I dared do something so tedious and character-building!

Challenging was when our Spotify stopped working. Loss of Internet is bad for business, especially when everything depends on it: our point-of-sales, cost estimator, and cash registers are all tied to the cloud. Unfortunately, our provider couldn't help much since their workforce went on strike. Amy's phone, with a Square attached to it, became our register. She set up a makeshift office down the street at a restaurant to do the bookwork and ordering. Simple questions that are normally verbalized had to be texted. Amy could not easily be reached, of course, since her phone was left behind. And with the staff too busy texting, production slowed to a crawl. If one day of Internet silence is a major hindrance to a retail business, and three days is unbearable, imagine going without service for fifteen w-t-f days! Funny, the ISP had no problem sending us the monthly bill. To put it politely, it was time for a switch.

Christmas ornaments made by kids

But awesome was when Amy sold a bunch of her artwork, and people started buying my Downtown Waterville prints and selecting frames for them on the spot. The holiday season geared up, and we gave kids of all ages something fun to do by creating ornaments that we would display in our window. Some kids liked the idea so much, they stayed inside our shop with crayons and markers while the Kringleville parade, the main attraction of the day, passed them by. These are times when we feel proud to be business owners. And all the above were the highlights of just our first year in business!

This is a late fall scene just because a full tree canopy kinda blocks the store's branding. Some hotshots at the PPFA probably wouldn't approve, but who's to fight nature? The Framemakers is my second watercolory-style digital image in the storefront series— if it is a series. The first was Common Street Arts.

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