My late grandfather always asked two questions when house hunting: “Is the school paid for?” and “How far is the nearest liquor store?” So why is David Ericson, whose gallery is in an 1800s red brick 2-story charmer smack next to the downtown DABC, moving to the Avenues after 20 years?
“I had the opportunity to sell the building at what I think is a very fair price,” Ericson says. “By selling it to the owner of the property next door I guaranteed my retirement whenever I want. I’m not ready to retire yet. But I was afraid that if I waited 10 or 20 years, because I have this narrow little piece of property that’s 33 feet wide, I might not be able to sell it when I needed or wanted to. So, I took the opportunity to sell it now and put the money into a different piece of property.”
And does he care to tell us why he’s really leaving downtown? If that answer were, perhaps, to help others in a similar situation?
“There’s a homeless encampment in the backyard next door,” Ericson replies. “I am disappointed in the city that they haven’t taken better care of that. I probably have as good an experience with the homeless in downtown Salt Lake City as anybody because my business for 20 years tried to improve the quality of the area around their ‘candy store.’”
He points out that the DABC is where many people “get their calories and their self-medication” and says he has observed over time “that not 10% of the people on the street are local Utah people. . . and I think 99% of them are collateral damage from the Vietnam War, either veterans themselves or children of veterans or people who were influenced by that era. They have social and emotional problems that we need to help them with, but we make it too easy for them to survive without helping themselves,” Ericson states.
His downtown location is safe for his customers, he says, and he has valued their loyalty. “I bet I had no more than half a dozen seriously intoxicated people in the gallery in 20 years. That’s not much. I had one yesterday and it was the first in five years.” There is a pause . . . “My wife just said from across the room, ‘That’s because you let him in.’ And I did.” The art dealer adds that he hopes he made a difference being next to the liquor store for that length of time.
Ericson closes on the new place on Feb. 8, but with 500 paintings hanging on the walls of his present location and a remodeling job ahead of him at the new locale, figures it will be April before he moves. And, as he’ll only have room for 500 artworks in the new place if he hangs them floor to ceiling, everything is reduced (by appointment) starting March 1 st. (Some items are on sale now, so it pays to check in.) “With all the running around I’m doing, the best way to reach me is on my cell: 801-300-0546,” Ericson says. “I can get down to 200 South in 15 minutes from home at any time.”
“In the old house I could hang a 30-piece show and not change a nail. The new space will be different. It will take a while to get used to how to manage it.”
The new space is located across from Lowell School on the lower Avenues at 140 North E Street. “It’s a 1960 commercial building,” says Ericson. “It had a preschool in it for the last 20 years that I remember. It was originally built by an electrician who had an electrical company and I remember seeing light fixtures hanging down in the windows.” He learned about the available location from his good friend of 50 years, Werner Weixler, who owns the building next door and made needed introductions.
“The neighborhood has traditionally had artists,” says Ericson, who knows these things. He lists Mahonri Young, A.B. Wright, Lee Greene Richards, and Cornelius Salisbury, adding that C.R. Savage lived on 3 rd Avenue and A Street. “The lower Avenues were the first middle-class, what we would call a “subdivision” area, outside of downtown to develop in Salt Lake City,” he explains.
“It’s a mid-century modern building and I’m going in that direction with it. It will lend itself very much to living artists; I’ll have to figure out a way to present the deceased people interestingly, if that makes sense – I’m confident that it will be fun. It’s the artists who make it interesting, who make people think and react and participate.” He plans to do all the work himself. “I have a hard time paying somebody to do something I can’t do myself,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve worked on lots of things over my life.”
“The central downtown has just become so expensive,” says Ericson, who had done some scouting around. “Art galleries are very glamorous to people on the outside but it’s not very profitable. For me, the biggest profit came from buying a piece of property and selling it.” He adds, “We’re excited to move to the Avenues.”
This writer noted that we had delayed our interview by a day because Ericson had been busy selling a whopping 25 paintings, which would appear to be lucrative. “I discounted them, so my profit margin isn’t the same as normal,” he replies. “The hardest thing for me is that I have to maintain the value of the artists’ things and then I can discount the things that I own or that I’ve acquired from some other source and what I sell it for is based on what I’m willing to sell it for and not what I have to guarantee the artist back,” says Ericson.
“My policy has always been that I’ll take back anything for what you paid for it towards anything else in the store. I get back 20 paintings a year. And, after 40 years you have a lot of extra paintings. It helps me. It means that I’m selling things that I’m willing to take back if there’s any question or issue and I’ve had people return them after 20 or 30 years. They’re tired of them and they turn them back in and I pass them along to somebody else. But it also keeps me honest. In the art business, that’s the most important thing that you can do. Most people don’t understand some of the sacrifices you make to help the artist. Because that’s all we’re really trying to do, is support our friends.”
And should he find he misses his old hood, the Avenues liquor store is just a few short blocks away.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.