Twenty Years on Myrtle Avenue

Twenty years ago, L.B. Brown opened Clinton Hill Simply Art & Framing Gallery, one of the first specialty stores in the neighborhood.

At the time, no one could understand why she would open an art store on Myrtle Avenue, Ms Brown said. Even the local police thought something seemed a little off. Recently an officer from the 88th Precinct, who has been a customer of the store since it opened, told Ms. Brown that she had once been under surveillance.

“When they heard that there was a new business coming into one of the biggest street drug areas on Myrtle Avenue they thought, ‘Who in their right mind would open a framing business if there wasn’t something illegal going on?’” she explained.

In the beginning Ms. Brown’s mission was to raise the profile of ethnic art, including works by Latin American, Caribbean, Native American and African American artists.

When she opened 1991 there were more than 20,000 framing businesses owned and operated in the United States. In the last five years, the number has dropped down to 8,000. “It’s an industry that’s shrinking in front of the American eye,” Ms. Brown said.Today, paintings sit on the floor with a clearance sign. Black and white postcards cover two walls — Ms. Brown’s store features the biggest collection of them in New York City. But it’s the frame moldings in every color of the rainbow lining the wall along the register that garner the most attention these days.
With the newly adopted slogan “We frame lifestyles” and 90 percent of her revenue now coming from framing services, Ms. Brown’s business model has definitely changed with the times.
“We’re high end,” she said. “This isn’t one-hour framing.”

When Ms. Brown, a former advertising executive for Ebony magazine, first opened the store she didn’t know how to frame and didn’t want to learn. A less-than-stellar employee forced her into it.

“I’ll never forget him. He was just not coming to work on time, not doing the right stuff, really just a pain in my neck,” Ms. Brown said. “My word is my bond and I promised this woman her work would be ready and this clown didn’t come to work. I didn’t know what to do.”

So Ms. Brown went to the back of the store and cut the biggest piece of glass she’d ever cut in her life. After that she took all the classes, attended all the conferences and became one of the most prominent framers in the industry.