The elegant little gallery that has graced its location at Church and Queen streets for more that decade will close Nov. 18, a landmark that will be missed by arts connoisseurs.
"The economy was the final straw for me," said Marcell Easter, who two years ago acquired the Hatfield II, a space that was for many years known as the Wynnie Hatfield Gallery. His business was doing well until about a year ago.
"It was when they closed the Dock Street that people stopped dropping in," he said, referring to the historic theater that has been closed for renovations since last year. "And they say it won't reopen until 2010, and that's a long time."
He said the bad economy sealed the deal.
"The housing slump really hurts any art gallery to a degree because the main time people buy art is when the have new, empty walls to fill," Easter said. "Think about it, when you move into a new house, you have the urge to buy something new to decorate it."
Easter didn't comment on what he will do next, but it won't be owning an art gallery.
For several weeks, the national media have warned that the arts would be among the first to take a financial hit in the midst of the recession, as people increasingly need the money for essentials: fuel, medicine and food.
However, over on Broad Street, now unofficially known as "Gallery Row," the ambience is guardedly upbeat even at galleries that have been affected by the downturn in the economy.
One afternoon last week at the Rivendell Woodworks & Gallery, owner Terry Johnson and a friend were packing up to vacate the space at 29 Broad St., which Johnson has rented for four years.
Johnson said that after doing a good business, a year ago she started noticing a downturn in craft furniture sales. Some buyers began canceling orders because they were unable to close on a new house they had planned to furnish.
Sitting in a Stickley-style chair, Johnson's tone was upbeat as she explained she still will sell goods online at rivendellwoodworks.com.
"I'm very lucky in that my lease is up this year," she said. "Some gallery owners on this street are just staying on until their lease runs out, which could be years. If things don't pick up, more will leave. They may not tell you that, but it's the truth."
Ann Long Fine Art has had its best year in its 12-year history, said owner Ann Long. In fact, she has made the move from a space at 177 King St. to a larger gallery in an 18th-century building at 54 Broad. Long, whose prices range from $950 to $90,000, said her higher-end artwork is selling best.
"Most out-of-town art collectors who buy from us have already researched us online or heard about us," Long said. "We don't have a real tourist clientele; not many people just walking down the street are going to drop $30,000 for a painting. But we have Lowcountry residents who may use art as an investment, as can businesses."
But Long was quick to add: "Believe me, I feel very lucky because I know things can change on a dime."
Another gallery that has moved from lower King Street is the John M. Dunnan Art Gallery, which occupies 121 Church St. However, the gallery will not reopen until renovation is completed on the building in mid-November, says artist John Dunnan, who purchased the building.
"I wanted to move back to the French Quarter, where I once had a small gallery at 12 State St.," said Dunnan, whose artwork is priced at $2,500 to $50,000 and whose guest artists' works start at $1,000. "Also, in this location, we can be part of the French Quarter Art Walk."
With the economy "definitely hurting, it's probably been good we've been closed the past two months," he said. "But earlier in the year, our business was consistently good, and I'm optimistic that people will always see how art lifts the human spirit, even in bad times."
Another Church Street gallery owner is longtime artist John Carroll Doyle. He leased the Margaret Peterson Gallery at 125 Church St. after Peterson decided to semiretire and devote her time to painting. The gallery features 85 percent Doyle originals, and the remainder are works by Peterson. Prices range from $2,500 to $32,000.
"I'm definitely feeling the recession," said Doyle, who has been in the Charleston art business for 35 years. "Rather than selling five original works a month, I may sell two."
Doyle considers his saving grace the fact he also rents a smaller space, the John Carroll Doyle Print Gallery, at 57 1/2 Broad, where his reproductions on canvas known as giclees are priced between $1,000 and $3,000.
"The giclees are my bread and butter because I sell five or six of them a month," he said. "Any art gallery owner who says business is booming is most likely exaggerating. Most are not so much looking to make a big profit as to make a living — to survive."
Doyle said he has cut back on art openings and the related expenses.
"Instead of hiring a caterer for $2,000, my assistant, Annie Boxell, and I go buy food and wine at Costco, and we save a great deal of money," he said.
Bob Lang, owner of Robert Lang Studios, 151 East Bay St., will no longer have his dramatic upstairs gallery located beside his smaller one on street level.
"McCrady's restaurant bought the building and needed the space," he said. "We are looking for a bigger space, so when our lease comes up, we may move."
While Lang said he thinks the bottom line is that the art business in Charleston still is booming, he has lost some of his lower-end buyers.
"I'm talking about young buyers who might get a $1,000 painting for an anniversary present," said Lang, whose prices range from $4,600 to $20,000.
Moving from 17 State St. to 125 Meeting St. was a big step for Wells Gallery owner Hume Killian, who bought and refurbished the building.
"Hume was looking for a larger space, and this is perfect, near the Gibbes Museum," said Anne Fishburne, gallery director. Overall, she added, "our business has not slowed down, but lately people are buying more smaller paintings than they have in the past.
"Also, we have noticed people are taking their time in deciding to buy a painting, whereas they used to just come in, pick one out and buy it right then," said Fishburne, noting prices range from $8,000 to $20,000.
Another arts enterprise that said it is doing well in this economy is the Dobbin Gallery at 175 Church St. It just opened a new gallery in Freshfields Village between Kiawah and Seabrook islands.
"We decided to expand because this (new) gallery will be a 'must see' for visitors to the islands as well as for locals who come this way for the boutiques and restaurants," said Kaelyn Hawkins, manager.
But Jeannette Nicholson echoes the feelings that some gallery owners would say only privately:
"Every night, I go to bed with thoughts of how to keep my gallery viable," said Nicholson, who with Victoria Ellis owns the Ellis-Nicholson Gallery at 1 1/2 Broad. "I am a small business owner, and our nation was built on the backs of the small business owners, but it appears the government, today, only considers the importance of big business and believes only big business is vital to our nation's strength. However, as Charleston gallery owners pull together for success, I am optimistic things will change."