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Local art businesses get crafty

Owners of art businesses in Evanston are resorting to aggressive discounting and other marketing tactics to keep from going under during the recession.

Darren Oberto, framer at the Alley Gallery, puts the finishing touches on a frame.

Owners of art businesses in Evanston are resorting to aggressive discounting and other marketing tactics to keep from going under during the recession.

Darren Oberto, framer at the Alley Gallery, puts the finishing touches on a frame.

With just a handful of galleries in the area and the recent closings of well-known art galleries such as Maple Avenue Gallery in Evanston, owners are offering promotions that they say were not needed in the past to attract buyers.

“I usually offer a 10 percent discount, but now I am willing to offer between 20 to 25 percent, depending on the piece,” said Jerri Zbiral, owner of Collected Image, a gallery in Evanston that sells photographs to collectors and museums.

Zibral has noticed that people of moderate means who collect art from time to time are no longer buying. “It’s not difficult to sell an image that’s rare because collectors are willing to pay a lot. It’s harder to get money from images that are the second or third tier down,” Zibral said.

The Alley Gallery in Evanston, which specializes in art framing, has thrived for 24 years solely by word of mouth and without advertising. However, due to the decrease in demand for art, manager Brent Houston said the shop is rethinking its marketing strategy.

“We are in the process of developing a coupon where you spend $200 and get $50 off,” said Houston, whose business heavily relies on the success of art galleries. “You have to buy art to buy a frame. We are the last people on the list to get cash.”

Adapting to the tough economics times is the most important move a business can make to survive the economic crisis, said Donna Zarbin-Byrne, owner of Great Lakes Art Studio, an Evanston business specializing in customized metal sculptures.

“We have primarily done residential work, but are now venturing into public and commercial work, like working for the city and the state,” said Zarbin-Byrne, who lowered her hourly rate six months ago to attract more customers.

“We’re providing a lot of free stuff in the beginning to win the client over, matching prices more,” Zarbin-Byrne said. “We have to work a lot harder to get the dotted line signed.”

Reporter/photographer Santana Lopez is a graduate student in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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