Walls? We Don’t Need No Stinking Walls: Why Keep a Brick-and-Mortar?

Jan 9, 2017 | Stephen Jackson

To some, the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar retail operation is like setting up a landline in their apartment — it’s been made obsolete by the advantages of mobility. Despite some obvious drawbacks (like a greater exposure to online fraud), e-commerce has emerged as the go-to model for all types of businesses, as it circumnavigates the overhead associated with setting up an “IRL” storefront.

But it’s also foolish to think that brick-and-mortars are on the way out, and Mom and Pop Art Shop in Point Richmond, CA, is a great example of a real-life storefront that’s working.

Nestled in a tiny hamlet in the northeastern section of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mom and Pop Art Shop is several things at once: an art supply store, a craft shop, an art gallery, and a community space. Step through its actual, real doors and you’ll find the work of more than 100 local artists.

“We consider ourselves a modern-day art general store,” says Jacinto Castillo, who runs the business with his wife, Kelly.

Mom and Pop Art Shop
Jacinto Castillo and Kelly Nicolaisen of Mom and Pop Art Shop

The storefront has been open since April 2016 and has seen a good bit of success. The pair moved to the area a few years back after becoming priced out of San Francisco. They had already been working the art festival circuit as a mobile art shop, featuring their own work and that of other local artists.

When they arrived in the tiny community of Point Richmond and felt the burgeoning creative community in the neighborhood, the Castillos realized there was an opportunity for a shop like theirs to exist. After a bit of good fortune, the perfect location on the town’s central square became available and they moved in.

Of course, this is a somewhat unique situation, delivered by a balance of demand and relatively affordable digs. They’re also on Etsy, but Castillo says that it only accounts for about two-to-three percent of their sales. Jacinto and Kelly’s story speaks to the persistent viability of the brick-and-mortar business model in today’s web-forward climate.

So, what makes it tick? What are Mom and Pop doing right?

Making Your Presence Felt

While Point Richmond is quite peaceful, it also runs the risk of being a bit too sleepy (by some standards), and Mom and Pop Art Shop helped to bring a certain vibrancy the town was lacking — which was also a boon to their business.

“We throw a lot of events, we try to make it so that there’s something happening in the town,” says Castillo. “We’ve kind of brought a different vibe to the town. Actually, three other shops, different than ours, have come in and opened up a whole new downtown experience for Point Richmond. It’s also brought in a lot of people from out of town to discover the area.”

Location, Location, Location

“If we had the same shop in San Francisco, it would be totally different,” Castillo says.

One necessary factor for a successful brick-and-mortar has to do with an intersection of affordability and demand. While there may be more artists living in San Francisco, Mom and Pop Art Shop would likely not have been able to thrive there because rents were just too high. However, Point Richmond provided the perfect backdrop for it to succeed.

Don’t Abandon the Internet Altogether

One of the greatest obstacles small storefronts face is the age-old dilemma of increasing foot traffic, and this is where Castillo says that it’s key to maintain a strong social media presence.

“We do all the Facebook and Instagram and all that other fun stuff online, and we’re really good about posting stuff when we have new events or if we get new things in the shop,” he says.

“We’ve also made little commercials with iMovie, and we’re always trying to stay online as much as possible and drive foot traffic that way. But it’s not easy, because everyone in our town has been to our shop a hundred times so we try to keep it as fresh as possible. We’re always changing stuff around. Every two weeks it feels like a new shop in there.”

Have Fun

Another reason for Jacinto and Kelly’s success might be the fact that they simply have fun doing what they do, and people can feel it.

“It is hard to do this in a time when everything’s online, but it’s fun to be in a situation where people still are romantic about the olden days and the mom-and-pop shops of the world,” Castillo says.” I love that we’re at the cusp of that situation in our town and we’re trying to keep that nostalgic feeling alive, back before everything wasn’t just”