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Staying Alive: How Guelph Arts Businesses are Surviving COVID

By Tatiana Poluch, GAC Volunteer

The pandemic has hit the arts and associated businesses hard. We checked in with two family-run Guelph arts businesses to see how they’re coping. Here’s what we heard from Chris Ahlers of Wyndham Art Supplies and Audrey Kloepfer of Kloepfer Custom Framing & Gallery.

GAC: Tell us about your business and how it has evolved with COVID?

Wyndham: “Wyndham Art Supplies has been in Guelph since 1992. We primarily supply materials for drawing, painting, printmaking, drafting, graphic arts, craft and hobby. We added picture framing services, and classes and camps through our Guelph School of Art (GSA). When we closed our doors in March 2020, no one knew what to expect. We laid off almost our entire staff. My wife Tammy and I ran the business with some help from Jay, our website person. Overnight, the majority of our business went online. The in-store experience is different. We’ve made changes to the store layout, to help us manage traffic and fulfill orders safely. We made the difficult decision to permanently close our picture framing department, and there’s been no activity in the GSA for over a year.”

Kloepfer: “Kloepfer has been a family run business since 1986. It changed from photo framing and finishing to custom framing and gallery space. In the past few years, we’ve added home decor/furniture sales. With COVID, it’s been harder to sell with less foot traffic. With the unfortunate closure of other local framers, we’ve been able to thrive with more business.”


Tell us about your Guelph connection?

Wyndham: “I moved to Guelph in 1992 to open the store with my father Otto, who commuted from Burlington in the early days, and my mother Marg, who worked in the background. The whole family has now lived here for years.”

Kloepfer: “Kloepfer’s has been in Guelph for 30 years. Originally named “Guelph Frame and Photo,” our business changed into an art gallery/framing space when we moved into our present downtown location. I purchased the business from my father in 2013 with a core focus on providing quality framing services while supporting local artists.”


What are some changes brought on by COVID that are here to stay?

Wyndham: "Some changes are likely to remain for some time, if not permanently. Large portions of the building are off-limits to the public, to help keep track of customers and allowing our staff to work behind the scenes filling orders. Some version of this will remain. We’ve experimented with private appointments and will continue to develop this option for customers who’d like to get up close to certain departments (like paper, which moved upstairs). There is a higher level of staff attentiveness to customers and surroundings. The pandemic caused us to focus on what our core business really is. This process will help guide us as we come out of this pandemic, hopefully better and more efficient. As our online store grows, we send out more customer orders from coast to coast.”

Kloepfer: “With all of the different shutdowns, our gallery changed hours and currently operates from 10-4. This will likely last until the end of the pandemic. Another change is that framing is now by appointment only. This has really had an impact on how I manage my day as a single person operation.”

What can the community do to support you right now?

Wyndham: “We are blessed to have a very supportive community of customers and fans who have really shown up for us this year. It helps tremendously that we already had a website and we were able to put alternative shopping methods into practice quickly. Our social media presence has increased and we’re grateful to the many people who have started following and supporting us. Anyone who values our community and wants to help ensure a diverse marketplace with more options should be looking for ways to buy local. Local businesses sell online too.”

Kloepfer: “I’ve had a lot of great support from our community, which is always appreciated. The business received some government support which made an impact on promoting our business. I’ve spent time developing our website and social media accounts.”




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