Posner's celebrates 100 years of supplying Tucson sign makers, artists

2013-10-06T00:00:00Z 2013-10-06T20:06:53Z Posner's celebrates 100 years of supplying Tucson sign makers, artistsBy Angela Pittenger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Posner’s Art Store, the go-to art and architecture supply store for University of Arizona students, is celebrating its 100th year in business.

Many things have changed for the store in the past century — locations, family owners and inventory. But Posner’s appeal as a family-owned and -operated shop has remained.

“I like the store. It’s friendly,” said UA architecture alumnus Glenn Buack. “It’s a mom-and-pops place. I get better service there than I do at a box store.”

Buack graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the UA in 2010. He frequented the place often because he did his models for school by hand. “I got everything there.”

He is among the alumni who answered a call to artists, put out by the Marshall Foundation, to show artwork created with supplies from Posner’s as part of its 100th anniversary celebration. Posner’s is in Main Gate Square, which the Marshall Foundation owns and manages.

Buack’s painting, “Sleeping Muse of Architecture,” is on display at the store during this weekend’s celebration.

ALL IN THE FAMILIES

Posner’s got its start in 1913, when Philip Solomon Posner, a Russian immigrant, moved to Tucson with his family. He started out painting signs, horse-drawn buggies, store fronts and striped barber poles.

Later that year, he opened his downtown store, Posner’s Paint, using the crates his supplies arrived in as store counters. He sold sign-making supplies as well as paint.

In the late 1960s, Posner and his son Louis moved the store to Park Avenue to be closer to the university. The elder Posner hand-lettered diplomas for the University of Arizona, and signs on campus. Art and architecture students came to rely on Posner’s for materials.

The store was sold to Dick Brown in 1977, when he came to Tucson from Los Angeles in search of a business he could buy and run. He didn’t know about art or the art business when he first bought Posner’s, but he knew it would be an interesting field .

With only one employee who isn’t related, Posner’s continues to be a family owned and operated business. Brown, who co-owns the store with his wife, Emily, has two daughters and two grandsons working in the store .

“We get to work with family every day. Ninety-eight percent of the time, it’s wonderful,” quipped Jenny Marshall, Dick and Emily’s daughter (and no relation to the Marshall Foundation family).

Donny Marshall, 17, the Browns’ grandson, has been working in the store off and on for four years. “Working with family is fun,” he agreed. But what he really likes is the perk of getting to know the students and other customers, he said.

NEW HOME, SAME SERVICE

The store moved to its current location at 944 E. University Blvd. last year to make way for student housing on Park Avenue. The Browns were nervous about the move but just needed convincing, said Jane McCollum, manager of Main Gate Square.

“When you’ve been somewhere 40 years, change is hard,” McCollum said. “We knew this would be a great place for them. It’s been pretty wonderful.”

With the new location next to Espresso Art Café, the store sees more walk-by foot traffic than it did before. “We couldn’t have landed in a better spot that suited us as well,” said Emily Brown.

Posner’s has kept a close relationship with the University of Arizona. Emily Brown provides hand-lettering services to the university, and the store works with teachers on supply lists and discounts for students.

UA painting professor Alfred Quiroz has been a Posner’s customer since the store was at its original downtown location on Congress Street. He said Posner’s has always been accommodating to artists and artists-in-training in the community.

“They’ve always been really good to me,” Quiroz said. “Pretty much every artist in town knows them. They accommodate our students, too. Every semester they give us coupons for our students — to encourage them to shop locally.”

Most of Posner’s business comes from students — about 95 percent.

“It’s close to everything, and they’re super nice,” said Nikki Hernandez, a 19-year-old architecture student and Posner’s customer. “They know that we’re tired, stressed and rushed ... and they help out with that.”

Posner’s carries more than a half million products from erasers to paints to specialty papers and foam board.

Elizabeth Vargas, a 2-D design major at the UA, likes that it’s strictly an artist store, and doesn’t mix in craft supplies. “There’s a lot to choose from,” she said. “I will definitely shop here when I’m done with school,” too, she added.

Emily Brown credits the store’s century-long success to that reputation and customer service.

Posner’s staff has been known to drive students home in the rain. Or to drive customers carrying large purchases to their cars in the store’s golf cart.

Brown recalled a time when a student stole a pencil from them. They didn’t know about it, until guilt brought him in to return it. “He said ‘you guys are so nice, I couldn’t just keep this.’ And he was a paying customer ever since.”

Posner’s has been a survivor for 100 years — through recession, moves and, now, the modern streetcar construction connecting UA with downtown.

“One hundred years is incredible,” said Quiroz, the painting professor. But then, he considered, “The fact is there are always people making art, and there will always be a demand for supplies.”

The Browns plan on keeping Posner’s going, and their children have agreed to take it on when the time comes. The store hopes to expand its already thriving business by adding more in-store classes and workshops.

“It’s our livelihood,” Emily Brown said. “We want to pass it down. So, there’s motivation to keep it going.”

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at apitteng@azstarnet.com or 573-4137.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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