Art Hardware sells different goods and services than some might expect.
Many people assume the Colorado Springs-based custom framing and print shop specializes in knobs and pulls, while others relate the name to the store’s original function as an art supply store.
The business was started in the mid-1970s by a Colorado businessman looking to target art students at colleges up and down the Front Range. The original store was in Boulder, where the owner catered to CU-Boulder art majors. He later expanded the operation to Fort Collins, Denver and eventually to Colorado Springs in 1978, around the time the company began offering printing services to compete with chains like Kinko’s.
Don Foreman, now owner of the only remaining Art Hardware location, at 119 E. Costilla St. in downtown Colorado Springs, began working for the founder soon after moving to town in the early ’90s when the store was on Tejon Street.
One thing leads to another
He got the gig after cold-calling the store for another Colorado Springs-based business, with no idea that the connection would change the course of his professional life.
“They must have liked my style [when I called],” he said. “Later on, they were looking for a sales rep to sell architectural equipment and supplies, and that’s how I started in ’94.”
Foreman worked for the company for 14 years and helped relocate the business twice before buying out the store’s retiring owner in 2008. The store then occupied the current Iron Bird Brewing Co. location at 402 S. Nevada Ave.
Eventually, the economic downturn factored into Foreman’s decision to relocate to a much smaller space at 119 E. Costilla St. (four doors down in the same building) last November.
“It wasn’t a fun move, but it was a good move — ultimately,” he said. Foreman said that his reprographics (the physical reproduction of graphics) business was hit the hardest by the latest economic recession, because many of its clients are commercial construction companies whose contracts suffer in such times.
But he said while other print shops were closing their doors, two main attributes helped Art Hardware stay in business: Foreman owned all of his own equipment, and the business is varied enough to cater to healthier markets while others suffered.
“We’re not just one thing — we’re diversified,” he said. ‘I firmly believe that is why my doors are still open.”
Path to recovery
After the market bottomed out, much of the store’s commercial business returned, and Foreman said Art Hardware has changed very little aside from a 50 percent reduction in floor space.
“In a perfect month, we’re hitting all cylinders,” he said. “Reprographics have come back the strongest since the recession because of building.”
He said that since starting in ’94, the most significant change has come by way of digitalization — a major factor in the company’s decision to quit selling art supplies when Foreman came on board two decades ago, along with competition from chains in the area.
“All of those products have kind of gone away,” he said. “It’s all on computers now.”
He has always been a salesman, and said that is ultimately what the business means for him.
“This is sales,” he said. “I’ve always been in sales, you know? I’ve never met a stranger.”
Foreman’s clients include a slew of local architects, designers, construction companies and government entities. He said that the store also receives many walk-in orders for custom framing and the occasional print job.
The staff is lean — three employees and an office dog — and depending on the order at hand, Art Hardware’s average turnaround time is three days to two weeks for a framing job, and as little as a couple of minutes for custom printing. Foreman said it takes slightly longer for framing because the frames are custom ordered and shipped from a warehouse in Denver, although the business keeps some mats in stock.
Loyalty pays off
Bobby Hill, who has owned and operated an architecture firm in Colorado Springs since the ’90s, said that his loyalty was to Art Hardware from the get-go.
“When I moved here from Dallas 20 years ago, printing was one of the first things I needed to find here,” Hill said. “They helped me put my portfolio together … they did all my printing … and helped me set up as I began to market myself.”
Hill compares his experience with Art Hardware to the classic ’80s television series Cheers, where “everyone knows your name.”
“It’s more than just dropping something off and picking something up,” he said. “Like most things, when you work with people who remember who you are, it’s more than just printing.”
Over the years, Foreman has framed all sorts of things for all sorts of people: From a blood-stained Viet Cong soldier’s helmet to autographed baseballs. And if it is too small a job for printing, he will often work with another local business on a project.
As for the future, Foreman plans to keep his business just the way it is, while expanding his audience to industries such as funeral services and wedding planning. As an addendum, he expressed his love for downtown and how his company has benefited from it throughout the years, while thanking his customers.
“We love it here — this is a jewel of a town,” he said. “I’ve been all over the world, and this is a great little downtown.”
119 E. Costilla St.