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Posted: Jul 21, 2009  10:44

The Groove Studio Supports Staying Local


Jeff Hughart And Carolyn Testa Are Featured Artists At The Groove Studio.

For the roughly 25 artists who share The Groove Studio, being able to continue to create their art, whether it be stained or fused glass, jewelry, paintings, carvings or wood art, is largely dependent on local commerce.

The Groove Studio is a 100 percent commission-free artists' co-op. The artists rent a space in the gallery and pull shifts at the store, assuming responsibility for the retail end of their jointly-held business. There is a graduating rental scale depending on the number of hours worked, so the artists are very invested in supporting the gallery with their physical presence.

Everything in The Groove is handmade and features primarily Boundary County artists. Even though there may occasionally be artwork by an artist from other parts of the Northwest, such as Newport, you will never find an artist from Southern California at The Groove.

Carolyn Testa, former owner and manager of The Groove Studio, is now currently "just another artist." She relies on sales of her paintings for some of her income.
"From a gallery standpoint, we are hugely unique," she said. "Since we're commission free, 100 percent of the money that is made by the artists goes home with the artists. Although there are other enterprises that feature artwork in addition to something else, we're the only gallery that is solely a gallery in Bonners Ferry. We hear it all the time: People say that our gallery competes with galleries in big cities because of the quality of the art and how it's shown. Most artists recognize that we are highly unusual. We all love each other here."

Jeff Hughart, the current manager of The Groove Studio, added, "We've had gallery owners from other towns come in and say how much they like our gallery."

Carolyn's first impression of Bonners Ferry wasn't all that optimistic, but over the decade that she has been a businesswoman, she has seen the city change and evolve, in her opinion, for the better.

"I got here in 1998," she remembered. "My first visit to this town was a very sad visit. I remember thinking, 'What a shame: A cute town, so much potential, but so many empty store fronts.' I was told I was crazy when I bought my first property. Then, when I bought the gallery, they thought I was crazy then too. So many people told me not to invest. But Darrell Kirby had the vision and he has taken a lot of heat for it, however, because of his vision and perseverance, Bonners Ferry is now a pretty town. Anyone who does business in this town is invested in it. We support each other, we are each others' cheerleaders, and we refer business to each other. We're very symbiotic here on Main Street. Everyone is connected."

Both Carolyn and Jeff are personally committed to buying locally.

Carolyn explained, "Ever since I opened this gallery, I never even look at other people's jewelry (outside of Bonners Ferry) because I want to keep my money at home. I find reasons to buy things locally sometimes even if I don't need them. I'm willing to pay a little more for toiletries. I buy them at Safeway and BTC because I want to buy locally. I don't mind spending a little more because I know that I'm supporting someone here."

Jeff feels the same way about keeping his money here in the county.

"My girlfriend and I rarely go to Sandpoint and we have never gone to Coeur d'Alene. We don't buy from Wal-Mart; we buy from BTC or Safeway, however, we do occasionally buy things online."

In addition to being a full time artist, Jeff also designs websites to fill in the financial gaps when his artwork sales are slow. In addition, he sells blank canvasses for paintings, thereby providing a local outlet for this specialized art supply.

"Being an artist is already a hard thing to do anyway," he commented. "Everything I make, whether I sell to a tourist or to a local, goes back into the mix and keeps things going. "

For a business that relies on the patronage of people who appreciate handmade works of art, Carolyn and Jeff are especially passionate about the necessity for local residents to patronize The Groove Studio.

"When we do our reports and things have sold, it always means more when a local buys it rather than a tourist," stressed Carolyn. "We know that they can drive to Sandpoint, but when they buy from us, it really means a lot. When a local purchases art and puts it in their house, or when we see them walking down the street wearing a piece of jewelry that one of us made, it really means something to us."


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