Like any business owner, Kathie Maguire Morolda has had her hurdles to deal with, but the ever-slow economy isn’t the one that has caused her the most anxiety in recent years. “I always say, a recession, I can handle a recession,” says Morolda, who launched her Cranbury Station Galleries 30 years ago and who just last month moved into a larger space at 39 Palmer Square West in Princeton.
Morolda specializes in custom framing and selling original artwork. She does “conservation framing,” meaning she conserves the items she frames.
Her biggest concern in recent years came with the advent of online shopping. A significant percentage of her business came through selling framed artwork to corporations, but competing against websites selling framed posters was a challenge.
But being an artist herself, Morolda is a creative person and she applies her creativity to her business to keep it thriving. U.S. 1 contributor Anthony Stoeckert asked Morolda how she did it.
I always wanted to have my own business and I really loved art. I paint a lot of these pictures. But my father in the advertising business [he sold ads that appeared inside New York City buses] used to always say to me, when we need an artist the line is wrapped around the block, and when we need someone who knows the business end, they couldn’t find anyone. So he encouraged me to go to school for art and business, so that’s what I did.
And my idea was always to open up some kind of art gallery, and my husband was very encouraging with that. But then my brother-in-law knew someone who had a frame shop in Washington and I learned the framing business. The bread and butter is really the framing, we all starve with the art.
What was your “Aha” moment?
I remember having a suede jacket that had to be cleaned, and I have four children, so that was tough to have to go to the cleaner’s, but if I really wanted to preserve that jacket, I had to pay the price. And that reminded me of custom framing. If you have something that means something to you and you stick it in a frame, glass is going to stick to it over time or it’s not going (to be framed) with conservation packing. It’s going to deteriorate.
So I realized that not everyone was going to be a potential customer for custom framing, but there were enough people out there with “suede jackets” that they know it’s going to be expensive but they want to protect their investment, so that is the customer I’ve been after, they knew coming in what framing costs.
We can frame a very valuable piece of art, which we do. One of the nicer things we’ve done was when a lady came in and she had been proposed to on a napkin in a bar. She always saved that napkin, so we framed the napkin that said ‘Will you marry me?’ That’s going to be an heirloom 100 years from now.
Unfortunately, after 9/11, we framed somebody’s father’s fire helmet. Then we framed police badges, photographs, cufflinks. The sad part is we were very busy.
People leave us with some really valuable, emotional things. One of the things we did for someone was for a lady who used her mother’s recipes to decorate her kitchen. It was gorgeous, all her handwritten recipes, and they had stains on them.
I just recently got a job to frame an invitation to attend a luncheon in Dallas, Texas, to hear President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. A piece of history.
Is there a moment in the history of your business that you see as the most significant?
One of the early lessons I learned came the first year I moved here in Palmer Square, 18 years ago, and they were going to do the movie “I.Q.” and I just wrote a letter to Paramount saying, “Who’s doing your framing?”
The reason that was kind of a big moment for me was because they interviewed the man from Paramount, they did a local story on it, and they asked, “Why did you pick Kathie for the framing?” And he said, “Because she asked us.” I was always a little nervous to ask, but if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get the business, so now I ask a lot.
What was your darkest moment?
I would say the difficult time was when people started shopping online. The great news about this is that if you hung in long enough, which I have, they’ve had it with that. We’re busy again with corporate work because they’ll call me and say, “We don’t want what they have down the hall,” because everyone wound up with the same pictures and the same metal frames.
I could not compete with a poster company that was selling these things, completely framed and the artwork for 90 bucks. So what I started to do was paint local scenes of Princeton and this whole New Jersey area and zero in on the gift crowd — the corporate work was important — but also the gift crowd where if they wanted a piece of Princeton art, I became a place to go.
If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
I opened up my first gallery when we had one son, and at that point I had a baby sitter. The other gallery is on my property [in a renovated blacksmith shop next to her house in Cranbury Station], and even with him being in the kitchen it was difficult to not be with him. And times were different back then, I was embarrassed to admit that I wanted to be home rather than working.
So I realized that hiring a manager, letting go of some of the responsibility, letting go and taking the money I was spending on a baby sitter, sinking it into hiring a manger to run the place and just calling periodically during the day, and I could work at night when my husband came home. That was probably the best thing I did because that helped me early on to delegate. And after that, I had another child [Morolda and her husband, Nick, now have four children, ages 24 to 33] so I really had to delegate.
Who are your role models and inspirations?
Probably my parents are my role models. I had a wonderful upbringing. And my inspiration is probably my husband, I know that sounds corny but I may be the creative one but he does the numbers. And sometimes I’m worried when we have a slow week or I’m worried if we’re swamped — so sometimes he keeps things in perspective.
Do you have an exit plan?
I’m going to be 60, and I thought by now I’d be slowing down, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, so I haven’t given it any thought.
Cranbury Station Art Gallery, 39 Palmer Square West, Princeton 08542; 609-921-0434.