Driver store corners creativity

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Greg Parker plans to hang and sell art in a bid to make Arthur’s General Store more financially sustainable. He has other plans, too, including a signature food item and sustainable living demonstrations.

After financial straits came to a head earlier this year, Arthur’s General Store in Driver is planning some changes to help it survive, including showing and selling art.

Owner Greg Parker said two artists have agreed to show pieces in the store on consignment. He is in talks with another three artists, including a potter.

Without yet hanging anything, he’s already sold two pieces through word of mouth, he said.

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“At the end of the week I’ll have the wall painted” to display the art, Parker said. “I’m expecting in the next two to three weeks it’s going to start.”

The concept has its roots in another initiative Parker said he tried to launch about three years ago.

The idea then was to have woodworkers, potters and other artisans give demonstrations outside the general store, established in 1929.

“What I wanted to do was have a gathering of them here in the parking lot,” Parker said. “I was wanting people to come down and show their wares, to show the things they do at home in their garage or den of an evening, and share with the community.”

Parker, himself a musician, said that the impetus then was to foster creativity in the community, rather than make money.

“At the time, I never got much response,” he said. “This time around, because I’m looking at it more as a commercial venture, if I put things on my wall, naturally I’m going to take a commission.

“I’m looking at it more of a commercial venture this time, even though it’s something that my heart is in.”

Parker has good reason for sharpening his business acumen. In June, the Suffolk News-Herald revealed that iconic Arthur’s was on the ropes, with Parker blaming the economy, the closure of the Kings Highway Bridge, and the modern era of big-box stores and shrinking main streets.

Parker’s friends and the wider community rallied to the cause, organizing and supporting, respectively, a fundraising event at the store, giving it some breathing space.

Selling a house and making a small profit also helped, Parker said. “I set aside a little bit of money to put back into the business,” he said.

Once the art is hanging, Parker said, he will turn his attention to creating a “signature” food item — a sandwich, for instance — that folks will want to travel to savor.

“I have some recipes and have been talking to some friends,” he said. “Between now and the end of the year, I’d like to do a free food night and get some feedback from my regulars.”

Parker’s other plans for Arthur’s include continuing his Friday night music sessions and adding readings and talks from poets and authors to them, as well as introducing informal seminars about reusing, recycling and refurbishing.

Hard times have forced Parker to into “doing something different, and seeking out different clientele.”