A Year of Transition for the County’s Art Economy

Arts sales in Door County took a dip this year, but artists and gallery owners expected that after the post-COVID enthusiasm of 2021.

“It was busier than we expected it to be,” said J.R. Jarosh of Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek. “Last year was probably everybody’s busiest year ever, so we expected it would be less – how could it not? We were surprised that July and August were about the same as 2021. Overall it wasn’t as busy, but it certainly wasn’t slow.”

Jarosh saw a change in the flow of business because many people are spending more time in Door County as they move here full time or just extend the time they spend in vacation homes.

“Since COVID, they came up to get away from the metropolitan area,” he said. “More people who owned places and would come up for a couple of weeks made a switch to live here and maybe realized they could work remotely. Why spend 45 minutes in traffic when they can go to the Blue Horse and have coffee for 45 minutes and then go to work?”

Jarosh continued, “It was busier that we expected, but we constantly felt thankful that it was a little less crazy than during COVID, and masking wasn’t an issue any longer. And people were still looking for art, which was terribly exciting.”

SŌMI Gallery has brought a new dimension to the city’s art scene. Photo by Brett Kosmider.

Sturgeon Bay was the hot story in 2022, with its Steel Bridge Creative District celebrating art newcomers on 3rd Avenue – Two Bridges, SŌMI Gallery, Avenue Art, the Miller Art Museum’s M3 gallery and events space, and The Pearl Gallery Rock Shop. North of Michigan Street is AMO Gallery and Framery, Artists Guild, and the Third Avenue PlayWorks lobby gallery; across the street, there’s a well-designed gallery at the Door County Community Foundation.

The Pearl is an eclectic shop with incense and crystals in addition to work by artists such as potter Liz Butler, as well as paintings by Alisa Landman, Andrea Naylor and Ernest Beutel.

“We were surprised at the lack of people walking downtown from gallery to gallery,” said Karen Hertz-Sumnicht, an abstract painter who is a partner in SŌMI Gallery with Popelka Trenchard Glass studio and gallery on 2nd Avenue. Hertz-Sumnicht also owns Avenue Art next door, along with a gallery and commercial frame business in Appleton. 

The continued growth of Sturgeon Bay’s creative district is giving the city greater pull for artists and art shoppers. Photo by Brett Kosmider.

“I don’t know if it was parking, or if people weren’t shopping,” she said. “Appleton has been strong retail wide. I am happy with the numbers we have had here, but they are lower than what I thought they would be.”

John Maggitti, a partner in Novel Bay Books on 3rd Avenue, said the store’s sales fell off in October and November compared to 2021, but they seemed to be holding in December.

“Overall, foot traffic was down,” he said. “It was clear the year was coming along real nice and was on track to be the same as the year before, and then it started to slide. It was still a good year, but something changed this year.”

Maggitti attributes a change in attitude to unease over the nation’s political climate and economic concerns. 

“We saw a confluence of events – there wasn’t one major event,” he said. “It just nibbled from the edges.”

In the middle of the county, Plum Bottom Gallery opened a third site in Fish Creek this spring, and its owners said they will operate year-round.

Jarosh said Edgewood Orchard Galleries has no plans to run year-round.

“The traffic isn’t there,” he said. “We don’t mind being open every day for six months, but I don’t think we could maintain our vigor if we were open for 12 months. And the sculpture garden loses a little of its charm with six to 12 inches of snow.”

Edgewood Orchard did extend its season after Thanksgiving with weekend sales featuring hot chocolate and Bloody Mary bars.

For three years, the art world of Door County has been adjusting to the upheaval, new rules and aftermath of COVID-19. The year ahead may finally be the one when the dust settles.

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