Celebrating Wet Paint in St. Paul

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“When you own a business, an independent locally owned business, it’s not just a business venture,” says Wet Paint‘s Beth Bergman said, “It’s a way of life.” According to Bergman, independent businesses carry a set of values that “people are just not interested in how much money you make, but how much it fits into the community, and how you create an environment that’s good for the employees.”

Bergman is celebrating 25 years of owning Wet Paint, an art supply store on Grand Avenue. this summer. She bought the business from an acquaintance, Hugh Huelster, in 1984. At the time, Bergman had a visual arts background with some basic business skills. Part of what made her succeed, Bergman said, is that because she didn’t have a family, she was able to commit her entire life to the business.

Fifteen employees currently work at Wet Paint, and some of them have been working there for 20 years. Many of the employees are artists themselves. In addition to a work environment that provides an arts community, Wet Paint further supports their workers by hosting an employee art show once a year, at venues such as Black Dog or Mad Hatter coffee houses. Bergman said that she made a commitment to keep everyone on staff when the economy started to fall, and instead of laying people off, reduced spending on inventory.

Wet Paint is a member of Metro Independent Business Association (IBA), a nonprofit organization that promotes local independent businesses, educates consumers about the value of shopping locally, and works to influence public policy. Bergman said IBA is all the more important in this economy because “people are realizing how important the business down the street is.”

In addition to serving professional artists and art students from Macalester, St. Catherine’s, Hamline, and other colleges in the area, Wet Paint also has a strong community base of “people in the neighborhood looking for art projects.” Bergman said that even though “people dismiss it as a niche market, we have something for everyone. We are the friendliest one on earth.” She added that she hopes people will come in to wish her a happy anniversary.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email sheila@tcdailyplanet.net

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