YMM Small Business Insider - Reflections on Points North Gallery
A tribute to the retirement of a community-made business.
"This started as a family business but I feel that it has become a community business. Because the community supported me through many hardships, and that’s what made the business, it was the community.”
My mother used to work in the office space right next door to her. As an inquisitive five-year-old, I was often told to stay out front and play while mom popped in to do whatever moms at offices do.
Naturally, I found myself bored and would wander into the framing store next door. I remember the machine used for framing, that, at five years old was of properly colossal height and size.
Before I ended up touching something I shouldn’t, a woman full of life with vibrant clothes spotted me. And instead of chiding me, she would greet me with the most genuine smile and show me around. She let me see the art she was busy framing and the pieces for clients that were ready for pickup. For a child, it was a wonderland of aesthetics.
Today, it is with thirty years of memories, going in and out of that store, that I put a pen to the page to toast that store and that woman. Their presence in this community has been nothing short of necessary - An oasis of artistic life in a 24/7 city.
In 1991, Florence Weber opened Points North Gallery (called JCD Frames and More, at the time) because she said, “the economy was really slow, and we needed work. We had three kids. I was a stay-at-home mom. And we just didn’t have that steady income—which is what I mostly wanted.”
As many entrepreneurs can attest to, the inception of a business is like taking on the responsibilities of another child.
“It was hard! It was really hard. I don’t even know if it was a dream at that point; it was more like survival. What else could I do? Where else could I work, where my kids could come after school? It started as a family-based business because every (family member) worked there. Casey (her oldest son) and Dawson (her middle child) hauled glass down the stairs as a kid. All the kids had a job,” Weber reminisced.
“I mean, Jessica (her youngest child) was only three when we opened. She used to sleep underneath the matte cutter. She’d crawl back there and have her little nest. It was tiny, but that was her little bed. And after we moved from one spot to another and we took that cabinet apart, we found she had little drawings all along the sidewall. It was so cute!”
Florence remembers how intimidating it was to open a business when she had no formal training.
“There was a course available in Edmonton, and it was ten thousand dollars, and I couldn’t go. I had three babies,” she said. “So, we decided that any mistake we made was going to be part of the training. And, it worked out really well. As for (developing) the eye, I read a lot, I subscribed to different art and framing and colour magazines. I studied a lot.”
At the time, there were five frame stores in town.
“That was crazy, five of us. And it was at that point that I decided to go high end. I knew the only way to make it work was to offer something that wasn’t available in town. So, that’s when I went into the Italian moulding. And ordered the really, really good glass and the best quality mattes, and just stepped up the game, and just made it better.”
Weber learned when a business has an ear open to the community, it can shift and mould itself to fulfill its desires. As artists in Fort McMurray would frequent the store, she became aware of a growing need in the community for space.
“I kept hearing from the artists, “I need a place to show my art!” So, I listened and asked, “What do you want? What does the community want? How can we achieve this?” And that’s how it started,” Weber said.
Following these promptings, the frame store was rebranded and opened as Points North Gallery in celebration of local artists. The heartbeat of the store began to take on its own life as a community outlet.
“The gallery space ended up being such a beautiful space. People would come in and say that it was equivalent to a Vancouver or big city art gallery. It was pretty special,” she said.
With the careful curation of art and space, the Gallery started to become a respite for people all over the city to come to enjoy and decompress, letting the beauty of it soothe their souls.
“There were a number of nurses that would come over, and I didn’t know this until quite a while afterwards but they would come there just to feed their soul. Just to come down from whatever they had experienced at work. And they were relying on that space to give them what they needed. That was really special,” Weber explained.
When reflecting on what thirty years as a leader in the artistic and community has taught her, Weber described her business journey as life-changing.
“OK. I’m going to go personal, and I might cry. But, I really like the person that I’ve become from being able to work at the Gallery. When I started, I didn’t have a lot of confidence, and I didn’t have a voice, and I’ve had to work at that. And I’ve really thought about my voice and how I wanted to portray that. And I had to become strong. It helped me grow, and I made those choices deliberately; to be a good person, and that my word was good, and to be honourable, and without judgment,” she said.
“I want to thank our community. This started as a family business but I feel that it has become a community business. Because the community supported me through many hardships, and that’s what made the business, it was the community. That’s really important to say. You don’t survive without support. It started as family support and ended as community support.”
It’s hard to encapsulate in words something that truly affects one’s depths. Points North Gallery has spoken that language of the soul.
Through the work of Florence, her team, and the artists involved, the Galley was a signpost to what matters in life: community, creative expression, a little bit of courage and the balance between rigorous pursuit and the allowing of oneself to sink into the beauty that surrounds us daily.
In a city so marginalized for its work, drive and accomplishment, Points North Gallery has been a cathedral that lifted residents’ minds and souls in the direction of what deeply satisfies their hearts.
Photo: Florence Weber retired her Points North Gallery business with an open house on February 13, 2021. Photo by Anthony Hoffman