"Will you be open on Good Friday?" a UPS driver hollered from the back of Boise Blue. Turning away from a customer seeking a Moleskine notebook, longtime art store proprietor Terrie Robinson shrugged her shoulders.
"We might be closed by then. I have no idea. Just peek your head in and check." That's Robinson's stock answer to everyone who asks when the downtown institution will finally shut its doors after 71 years.
"I've never done this before, so consequently, we're not like the Bon [Macy's], where we've got a date to be out of the building," said Robinson. "We're still discussing things legally with our accountants and our lawyers and all of that stuff, so we're just kind of playing it by ear, day by day."
Robinson and her sister, Janet Hackett, co-own Boise Blue, a business that has been in their family since the 1950s. But like many local family-owned operations, Boise Blue had a difficult time making it through the recession. Not only have more customers been buying art supplies online or at big box retailers, but the Idaho State Capitol renovation also made navigating Jefferson Street a nightmare during the last couple of years. All these factors swirled into a perfect storm that the art store just couldn't weather.
When Boise Blue finally announced it would be closing up shop last month, the local arts community let loose a collective wail. The store's Facebook page reads like an extended eulogy, with customers emotionally recounting their many happy experiences at Boise Blue. For artist Amy Nack, who owns printmaking studio Wingtip Press, the news was even more startling. Before she knew the store would be closing, Nack had organized a print exchange to celebrate the community landmark.
"At the time, we had no idea they'd be going out of business. We just knew the times were rough and Boise Blue has been so supportive of the arts in Boise," says Nack. "I initiated this print exchange, and I just decided to entitle it 'Blue.' There are 14 artists that have made prints celebrating Boise Blue."
On First Thursday, April 1, Boise Blue-inspired work from artists Karen Bubb, Katarzyna Cepek, Lisa Cheney-Jorgensen, Molly Heyn DeVinaspre, Terra Feast, Maria Carmen Gambliel, April Hoff, Angela Katona-Batchelor, James LaMarche, Denise Lauerman, Amy Nack, Josh Olson, Cassandra Schiffler and Deb Jones Yensen will be on display in the empty window adjacent to the art store. The work in the show is as diverse as the theme itself. While some interpreted "blue" literally--like Cepek's print of the Boise Blue storefront--others went more abstract--like Olson's hanging laundry.
Not only does a print exchange allow printmakers to share their work with each other--each artist makes one print for every member of the group--but it also lets the group to show their collective portfolio to the public.
"There's quite a community of printmakers here in town; it's a wonderful way to feed your work habit--to have a print exchange," says Nack. "You've got a deadline; you're going to get work from other artists; you're all working on a common theme. It's a great networking and artistic opportunity."
For Schiffler, who works in the time-consuming mezzotint medium, the exchange provided an impetus to spend 20-plus hours meticulously roughening and burnishing a metal plate.
"I'm just starting to get back into working more, so it was something good ... to push me into making more work," says Schiffler. "Also, receiving back more prints from other printmakers is exciting."
For both Schiffler and Nack, this exchange has offered an opportunity to give back, in a small way, to a business that been there during every step of their artistic careers. For many local artists, Boise Blue is more than just a place to buy art supplies; it's a social nexus.
"Boise Blue is ... a social transaction. Not only social with the people that run that store, but the other artists that you run into when you're buying your materials," said Nack. "It's more than just a commercial transaction."
Even though Robinson and Hackett will soon have to hand over the keys to the building, there's still a small glimmer of hope that someone else may purchase the shop and keep it open as an art supply store.
"It's a really, really slow process. Especially when people are checking into backup money and money for a possible new building, there's just lots of factors that go into it," explained Robinson.
Regardless of how things transpire over the coming days, Boise Blue will display all 14 "Blue" prints through the month of April. With a resigned sadness to her voice, Robinson took a sweeping look at the art empire her family has nurtured for so many decades.
"It's the last hurrah," she sighed. "The last hurrah."