Stepping inside Craft Service is like revisiting a time when family owned businesses, including hardware, stationary, and drug stores, dotted main thoroughfares throughout much of America, before the invasion of big box retailers.
With its handwritten signs, basic shelving, and simple displays, Craft Service, which is at 337 University Avenue in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts, even has that smell of age and serenity.
A sanctuary for the dexterous among us for more than 80 years, Craft Service will close sometime this year. The store opened in 1933.
Owner Art Minor was about 10 when he started coming to his father's store to help out and to play with all of the fascinating merchandise, some of it specifically aimed toward a child's creativity.
"My father was very much involved in the Boy Scout movement at the time," he says. "He carried a lot of the supplies for camping they needed. Scouting was a very big thing."
The store was actually called Camp Craft Service then. But Americans' interest in crafts and hobbies has been somewhat cyclical, Minor says, and driven by cultural changes. The arts and crafts industry, according to some business analysts, was pegged at nearly $30 billion annually in the US in 2010, and is enjoying a bit of resurgence.
Minor has seen more of these cycles than he can count.
"The craft business is a business that keeps evolving," he says. "In the 1960's, the macramé business was big. Everybody was into making macramé things. Then ceramics were big. And for a while we were heavy into art supplies."
Minor says that he tries to stock items requested by customers. And that's evident just perusing the store's aisles. There are dozens of cans of spray paint, wooden cutouts of ducks and rabbits, bird feeder kits, glues and pastes, paint-by-number kits of winter scenes and wildlife, model kits for ships and cars, and beads of every shape, size, and color.
But some items are Craft Service staples. For example, materials needed for copper enameling, leather for belts and knife sheathes, as well as supplies for Ukrainian egg decorating and chair caning and repair came to be associated with the store.
"Very few people do caning anymore," Minor says. "Now if the caning breaks through, people put the chair out at the curb. But these things sustained us over the years."
He also credits the store's longevity to a certain style of customer service that is less focused on making a quick sale and more on providing customers with information. That includes helping customers select the right tools for the job they want to tackle, Minor says, and talking them through how best to go about it.
"We have people who are in their 20's to their 70's and they'll come in here and spend an hour with us," Minor says. "Dad always had the philosophy that we're here to serve people. It's a business model you don't see as much of anymore."
You can make a sale once, Minor says, but good service is what keeps customers coming back. And many of Craft Service's loyal followers have been coming to him for years, he says. They often show him the work they've done, he says, and seek his advice on what to try next.
But Minor says that the store's volume has steadily declined in recent years, which he attributes to a variety of causes. He concedes, for example, that the store's interior isn't as modern as it could be.
There are also varying opinions on how recession-proof the crafts and hobby business is, with some industry observers saying that it is sensitive to downturns, when people have less money to spend.
But the most serious problem by far for Craft Service, Minor says, has been the advent of big box retailers. Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby are all vying for their share of an industry that boasted more than 62 million US customers in 2012.
"I understand if you live in Henrietta it's much easier to go to one of those places," Minor says.
He says that he can honestly say that he loved coming to work every day despite the long hours required to run the store.
"It's not easy for me to let this go," he says.