It’s the end of an era for Niagara’s art community as Mikreations Art & Frame Gallery prepares to close its Niagara Stone Road storefront permanently.
But Mike Penner, owner and sole operator of the business, says he won’t vanish entirely. All lines of communication, such as his business phone number, email and website, will remain open as he works through determining his next steps. His next move likely will include keeping the framing business alive, he says. After he takes a brief hiatus.
It was time to make a change and his decision to close up shop wasn’t based on just one thing; “There's a whole basket full of reasons,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic was certainly one of them. The forced closure at the beginning of the pandemic gave him time to rethink his vision moving forward. Being more available for family was another.
“I've been wondering about the future of the business and how to move forward with it to kind of streamline it or improve on what's happening. And then COVID hit and it just sort of forced the questions even stronger about what is the future of this business?” Penner says.
An upcoming rent increase, which would align with the renewal of his lease, was also a factor. He says he was growing more dissatisfied with the location and had contemplated dropping the brick and mortar aspect of the business for a long time.
“I had a flood in the building, and this is actually the third flood I've had in about the last four years, and nobody is responsible. The landlords don't seem to be taking any specific action to make sure that this doesn't happen again,” he says.
So, Penner decided to shut down Mikreations in its current capacity. But that doesn’t mean the end of it all. He says he found a new space at the former Virgil public school to use as storage and he is considering operating the frame business on a scaled-down model from there in the coming months.
This won’t be the first time he’s rebranded the Mikreations name to suit new aspirations.
“Before this I had my own decorative painting business, and for the 12 or 13 years that I did that, it was always a struggle to get the contracts to find the people who would pay to have you do incredible things on their walls or ceilings or whatever,” he says.
That initial business was also called Mikreations. It’s a name he says he wasn’t so confident about at first. But as the years went on, and people stopped to try to pronounce the name, or ask questions about its origins, he says he realized it was part of what made the business memorable.
“At first that really bothered me but then I started thinking that actually maybe it was a good thing because it made them stop and think about the name and take note of it, rather than quickly forgetting what the name of a business is,” he says.
“So maybe there was something good in that.”
Mikreations will always be memorable for many local artists, like Gail Kerr, who says she has shown her own paintings in the gallery space and frequently brought her work in to be framed.
“I've only been here in Niagara-on-the-Lake for about five and a half, six years. But ever since I got here, he's been like an icon. You know, on Niagara Stone Road, the hub of Virgil there,” Kerr says.
“I've taken my framing there, I've recommended lots of other people, even from out of town, I said, 'Oh, there's a guy here. He's good, you know, he can do your framing for you.'”
But it was more than the stellar workmanship that kept Kerr coming back. She says she’s going to miss the friendly conversation that always accompanied a casual drop-in to the gallery.
“What I love most, which I think is the part that I'm going to miss the most as an artist is, he's just the type of guy that would love to have you drop in. I loved dropping in there and just talking about different artists and about what's going on in the art community,” she says.
“And he was just so connected to everybody. So, I'm going to miss that kind of gab session … he’s just such a friendly guy too.”
That sense of personal connection was not lost on Penner.
He says some of his most memorable moments in the gallery were chatting with the many artists who wandered through his doors. What began as a business relationship often grew into a much more lasting freindship.
NOTL artist Jesse Lepp is one of those relationships, he says.
“He was challenging the first time he walked into the store: head down, barely a word to say, and it was challenging to try and open up this artistic ‘can’ and find out who he was and what made him tick. Now, Jesse will often come in and we'll have these incredible conversations about anything under the sun,” he says.
Penner says deep connections happen with customers as well.
“Some who come in and they feel like they can trust you, for some strange reason. And that's just such a huge compliment, that they would trust you enough to share something personal,” he says.
He says it’s the art on the walls that can evoke strong emotion in many who walk through the doors.
“Those are great moments for me. There was a piece of Jesse's art that hung here many years ago that was a slightly disturbing piece of art and I loved it. But the majority of people would just walk straight past it,” he says. “It was, I think, too much for them to take in.”
“But every once in a while, you'd have somebody who would walk in and they just about fall on the floor in front of it. And they would spend hours, opening up about some deep personal trauma or something that had deeply affected them,” he says.
For some reason, he says that painting brought emotions rushing out. It wasn’t a negative experience so much as a healing one, he says.
“I always refer to that piece of art as the most successful piece of art I've ever had in here. Even though it sat on the wall forever,” he says.
Lepp’s painting, called Anxiety, is now back in Penner’s possession.
Now, as Penner is planning to close this location and move to a smaller space, the gallery side of the business won’t be making the trip, save for three artists who he says don’t have another outlet for their work.
“So, the gallery is, for all intents and purposes, closing permanently. But I do intend to carry on with the three different artists who have no other outlet. And since I've been working with them for quite some time I've asked if I can continue on with them,” he says.
In his new space he says he will continue to represent Lepp, Judy Thorley and Fernando Pendas Fernandez.
Penner is having a storewide closing sale from now until about a week before he closes officially on Dec. 12. All paintings are discounted anywhere from 15 to 50 per cent off, decided by each artist. Custom framing services will be available until Nov. 24.
Penner says he will continue to be reachable as he works through the next few months and will make an announcement when he has firm plans for the next stage of his business.