GRANT PARPAN PHOTO
Blue Door Gallery, tucked away on Flower Alley next to Haiku sushi in downtown Riverhead, will be closing its doors on September 15.
When Maxine Utter runs late for a birthday party and has to find a present, she always ducks into the Blue Door Gallery in downtown Riverhead and grabs a unique gift that the guest of honor will undoubtedly love.
Those days are numbered.
“I knew I could always run in here and find something for somebody,” the Riverhead resident said while she perused the East Main Street shop last week. That’s why Ms. Utter and her friend Carol Gorman were sorry to hear the eclectic store, which sells work by local artists, colorful hand-crafted pottery and unique jewelry, will be closing its doors come Sept. 15.
“It puts another nail in Riverhead’s coffin,” Ms. Gorman lamented while skimming through a stack of prints by local artists, many of whom she knew personally.
But the decision to close the gallery brought a sigh of relief to store owner and artist Sandi Woessner. When she opened her shop in 2002, tucked away on Flower Alley between Green Earth Natural Foods Market and what is now Haiku sushi, she was told downtown Riverhead was about to go through a revival. Then anchor stores such as Swezey’s and Ben Franklin started closing, dimming hopes fora bustling downtown.
“I just decided I am not putting any more into this town,” she said. That realization “was a long time coming,” she added. She gives the people who are working to rebuild Riverhead’s Main Street an “A” for their efforts and said she has enjoyed the experience of running a business in town. “There are a lot of really good people who have made it a point to support downtown,” she said. But she had to face the inevitable.
Holding on became especially difficult when East Enders coffeehouse, next to the gallery, closed last year. Ms. Woessner used to sell paintings in the coffee shop and its patrons would come in to her store and shop, she said.
Low profit margins for jewelry and artwork — only about 4 percent per sale after overhead and artist’s commission — didn’t help, she said. Creative framing of prints, paintings and embroidery became Ms. Woessner’s bread and butter, but even that business began to decline when the national economy soured.
“I don’t need hundreds of customers a week,” she said. “I just need one good one.” Ms. Woessner expects to continue framing, most likely by appointment. Otherwise, the future is uncertain, she said. She plans to hold a clearance sale of some items in the weeks before her September closing. Much of the jewelry she sells on consignment will be shipped back to the artists.
Riverhead’s Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill said it was unfortunate that Ms. Woessner was closing now because there are exciting things in store for Riverhead.
He pointed to the affordable rental housing project, Summerwind, that will be built on Peconic Avenue, and other projects such as the proposed 100-room Hyatt Place hotel on East Main Street, which recently received site plan approval.
“I firmly believe there are many big things coming to Main Street,” he said. “I really hate to see her leave.”