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Art Gallery Marks Third Decade In Annapolis

The Annapolis Capital

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Cynthia McBride's sign might be dated but her business strategy is timeless.

The yellow sign by McBride Gallery's doorway says "Celebrating 30 Years." McBride admits the business, at 215 Main St. in Annapolis, is actually 34 years old.

She keeps the sign as a reminder the gallery has prospered in Annapolis for more than three decades through good times and bad. She was a constant as the city's arts community gradually grew into a robust collection of nearly two dozen galleries.

"Annapolis has become an `arts destination'," McBride said. "When I first opened, there were three galleries. ... The greater the number of galleries, the greater distance people will travel to come here and that really helps us. We've worked together through the Annapolis Gallery Organization to stage annual art events and even played host to national and international shows."

McBride Gallery's client base has changed over time to include customers from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware who visit Annapolis on a recurring basis. To ensure that they return, the gallery stages eight major shows a year.

Adjusting to tumultuous economic times, McBride added wedding registry, lower-cost reprints of famous paintings and layaway services in recent years.

McBride's personal motto -- "Think big, start small and work hard" -- has sustained her as she's owned and operated five successful art-based businesses. She's convinced smaller businesses like hers have been more resilient through the recession because they're more agile, can cut costs faster and make adjustments quicker than larger businesses.

The daughter of an independent, entrepreneurial farm family, McBride left a corporate job to open her first gallery in Hull, Mass., at the age of 25.

When she arrived in Annapolis, she re-started her framing business from home, setting up wholesale accounts with Woodward & Lothrop, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue while looking for gallery space. She settled on a shop on Dock Street, formerly an A&P supermarket and a wax museum, opening The Marine Art Gallery with a partner in 1978.

She renovated the space, eventually adding a second floor. Well suited to the Annapolis waterfront, the gallery turned a profit from the beginning.

Two years later, McBride sold the business to her partner and opened the McBride Gallery at 117 Main St. in June 1980.

Sensing its possibilities, McBride renovated the property, turning it into a two-floor gallery with room to represent 10 artists and display a wider range of art. She remained at the location (now the Black Dog) for 10 years.

In the autumn of 1983, McBride began renovations on a second property to handle her burgeoning framing business and opened the Benfield Frame and Art Gallery at 485 Jumper's Hole Road in Severna Park on Feb. 1, 1984. For more than 25 years, the Benfield gallery has offered custom framing, hand-crafted pottery, and wood and pewter items.

In August of 1990, McBride Gallery moved to its current location at 215 Main St. Originally a colonial home, the building was used for office space. The gallery has broadened the scope of art exhibited on its walls and represents 70 highly talented local, regional and national artists.

They include American impressionists, folk artists,and Dutch old master still-life painters, as well as sculptors and potters. Many have had museum shows or won national awards.

Price-points differ for the wide selection of artwork offered with giclee prints on paper or canvas starting at $75 and original oils and watercolors priced from the low hundreds to more than $6,000.

In response to client requests during the recession, the business began publishing and selling low-cost prints of 12 artists' expensively-priced paintings. The gallery also established a lay-away policy for customers who would like to spread out payments on their chosen work of art.

In addition to custom framing, her gallery now offers art appraisal and restoration services for aging or damaged paintings. A wedding registry has been initiated for couples who are art lovers.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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