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Artists mourn as St. Petersburg's Art Supply Store prepares to shutter in June

Pat Jennings, whose art supplies business helped breathe life into the city's now iconic street murals, says he's closing shop for good after nearly 15 years in St. Petersburg.

The Art Supply Store at 2429 Central Ave. permanently discounted all its merchandise by 50 to 70 percent on Tuesday, with plans to shutter in June.

Surrounded by blank canvases and tidy rows of pencils, tubes and spray cans containing every conceivable color, plus a vibrant collection of paintings gifted to him by some of the area's best-known artists, Jennings, 65, said the decision was made quickly.

"There are two reasons," he said, between answering a deluge of phone calls coming in after he'd shared the news on Facebook. "Declining sales due to the Internet, and increased rents due to the overwhelming success of this community."

He motioned toward the door, and the developing Grand Central District beyond it.

"It's a consequence of growth and popularity, coupled with greed," he said of rising rents in the neighborhood. "I get it. I'm a businessman."

The closing is a "heavy hit" for the art community, said Leon Bedore, artist and director of the annual Shine Mural Festival, who is better known as Tes One.

Jennings' store stocked aerosol paint in unique colors, and sold cans with the specialized nozzles artists prefer, back when those items were a rarity in Tampa Bay.

"Pat supported the street art scene here since before there was a street art scene here," Bedore said. "He was the first to bring in those type of paints, and make them available locally. He was a sponsor of Shine, and really, a lot of the murals in St. Petersburg were made possible through him."

Years before Shine, Jennings helped organize Urban Elements, a graffiti art event that attracted noted artists from New York and San Francisco to paint walls in Grand Central. The twist, at the time, was that the artists had permission.

Later he played a role in inviting local artists to paint some of the first large-scale graffiti pieces in the now-heavily-painted Warehouse Arts District.

"He was instrumental in getting a graffiti and street art vibe going in the area," said Johnny Vitale of St. Petersburg-based mural and sign company Vitale Bros. "A lot of art stores back then were just selling canvases to old ladies. Not him. ... That store is like our home base. That's where we go in the morning to meet with our coffee before we go paint."

For years, the business had been growing along with St. Petersburg's reputation as an art hub. The store moved 1,500 cans of paint during the most recent Shine festival, Jennings said.

"I've been shopping there since my kids were little, and they're teenagers now," said artist Jennifer Kosharek. "And every time I'm in there I run into another artist I know."

But sales began to drop in late 2016. Jennings hoped it was just a side effect of road work in the neighborhood, but things didn't improve this year.

"I'm not mad at people for shopping online. I get it," he said. "The ironic thing is that this is such a thriving art city, but even here, this store has to close."

From their home in Manhattan, where he worked as a corporate recruiter, Jennings and his then-wife "watched 9/11 happen" and decided it was time to go.

They settled in St. Petersburg in 2002 and opened a store at 689 Central Ave (now Urban Creamery). Jennings later moved west to 1144 Central Ave., then moved west again to the current location seven years ago.

He plans to remain in St. Petersburg and throw himself full time into his work as a competitive cycling coach.

"This is paradise," he said, noting that he'd ridden more than 40 miles that morning.

The store is set to close on June 30.

Artists mourn as St. Petersburg's Art Supply Store prepares to shutter in June 05/10/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 8:28pm]
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