Gallery North Star to shutter its doors

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GRAFTON — Gallery North Star will close this weekend after 45 years of selling paintings, prints and sculpture in Grafton, a sign the owners said is an indication of a larger economic shift.

Kim and Edward Bank said Tuesday that changes in the local Grafton tourist economy, as well as larger economic forces, were behind their decision to close the gallery this Sunday.

The Banks will be moving to the mountains of North Carolina at the first of the year. They will spend the next month packing up, watching their two dozen artists come and pick up their work, and saying goodbye to their Vermont community, where they have lived for the last 16 years.

The Banks have been very involved in their adopted hometown: Ed Bank served on the local school board and supervisory union for years, Kim Bank was a super volunteer in Grafton as well, and was a substitute teacher at the Grafton School, which is a short walk from their home. Ed Bank also is a snowboard instructor at Stratton Mountain.

"It's been very up and down the last two years," said Ed Bank, referring to the art world.

The Banks said their landlord, the Windham Foundation, which owns 30 percent of all the real estate in the village, had changed its mission at the Grafton Tavern, with an emphasis on destination weddings.

Wedding guests don't buy art, Ed Bank said.

The couple said they had talked to friends in Woodstock, and they said the Woodstock Inn, which also had a heavy emphasis on destination weddings, was having a similar effect on Woodstock.

"You can't fault someone who makes changes to their business," he said. "But it does have ramifications."

Before the emphasis on weddings, the Banks sold a myriad of New England art: snowy fields, red barns, vibrant fall landscapes, old charming buildings.

However, wedding guests are either preoccupied with visiting with friends and family, or they don't have the disposable income to spend on a $4,000 or $8,000 painting.

"It's changed the town and the kind of people who come to town," said Ed Bank.

The Banks said other Vermont galleries, including two in skier-rich Stowe, also closed recently, which they said was an indication of larger economic forces at play.

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And the Banks said it was just time for a change.

"We have been unable to come to agreement with our landlord, The Windham Foundation, over necessary repairs to the building we are housed in. With continuing rising rents versus declining sales, the economics of staying in business are not there," he said.

Liz Bankowski, the executive director of The Windham Foundation, said Friday the Banks had been important to the Grafton community, but that Grafton is not a high traffic community.

"The Banks have been valued members of the Grafton community, participating in a range of organizations and community events. They will be missed. The challenge their business faced has a lot to do with the limited traffic through Grafton which is not on the way to somewhere else. Visitors need to have a reason to come. For other businesses our weddings are an important source of revenue," she said.

"They are tenants like others. These are 19th and 20th Century buildings. We maintain our rental properties but do not have resources to do major renovations. This is reflected in reasonable rents," she added.

The Banks came to Grafton 16 years ago after a life in the corporate world, Ed Bank said, and a lot of business travel. He was involved in the financial end of a company that manufactured very large, heavy-duty trucks. "Think Freightliner," he said.

Sixteen years ago, Ed Bank said, he was looking for something completely different and had no experience in the art world. They chose artists within a three hour trip from Grafton, Kim Bank said, with a few exceptions.

Some of their most popular artists are well known in Windham County, they said, including Paul Stone of Dummerston and Charlie Hunter of Bellows Falls. Hunter's show, which features a large sepia-toned painting of the old Adams Grist Mill, was their last, the Banks said.

Kim Bank, who is a native of Charlotte, N.C., said the move south will allow her to be closer to be her aging parents. The Banks were the fourth owners of the Grafton gallery, which was started by artist Mel Hunter and his wife Nancy.

The couple said they'll be back in the winter next year, to visits friends and so Ed Bank can get in some snowboarding.

"Four to six weeks," said Kim Bank.

"Six to eight weeks," said the snowboarder.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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