A community event outside Art Retail Therapy. Credit: Art Retail Therapy

On the corner of 85th Street in Jackson Heights, one art shop offers more than just brushes and colored pencils. 

Some customers come in looking for a specific art supply, others come in for events like the weekly figure drawing class, and then there are those who come in for copies. When Francisco Segarra opened A.R.T. (short for Art Retail Therapy) in 2021, that was his intent. He wanted to keep fulfilling the neighborhood’s creative needs after learning that longtime art supply store GC Stationery was closing, and he also wanted the space to be useful for everyone.

Segarra not only brought high-quality art supplies to Jackson Heights, he made the venture his own. The Queer and Latinx-owned shop would be a safe space that invited artists and non-artists alike to share their art and life stories or to simply get lost among the well-stocked shelves. To do that, once Segarra signed the lease, he enlisted the help of his best friend Charlie Márquez, who became his business partner. 

It’s been both a dream and a challenge: “The most frustrating part [is] the exhaustion of just being a small business and really trying hard and still having some people who just don’t show up for everybody else that’s involved in making a community happen,” says Márquez.   

Neighbors who do show up are rewarded with humorous chats about art and “random things” that she and Segarra are interested in. 

“This is so much more than an arts store — it’s a community arts center,” said Linda Ganjian, a local artist who has collaborated on an exhibition at the store called Off-Brand. “Francisco has been incredibly generous in opening the space to local creatives.” 

Art Retail Therapy founder Francisco Segarra, left, and business partner Charlie Márquez, right. Photo courtesy of Art Retail Therapy

Figuring out changing community needs

When he first opened the store, Segarra offered only copying and faxing services alongside the art supplies that neighbors would have found at GC Stationery. The owner of that now-shuttered stationery shop, Greg Patel, became his mentor, guiding him on operations and merchandise. And considering Segarra had been coming to the store since he was 9, he had learned how to treat customers just by watching Patel.

But after realizing his neighborhood also needed a place to help with basic language or tech needs, Segarra expanded the services to fit the needs of older or Spanish-speaking residents. Neighbors increasingly come in for help preparing important documents like immigration papers or email support. 

“[I realized] this community needs somebody to help fill out papers, somebody to help them read a paper [and translate] from English to Spanish … like a hospital bill,” Segarra said.

So he started sharing his mobile hotspot for people who didn’t have Internet access or knew how to send documents through emails. He set up his computer to start offering services as a stenographer. 

On the day Epicenter NYC visited the shop, one home health aide from Corona, Queens, had exhausted her options trying to find copy services before she found A.R.T. 

Segarra takes care even with simple tasks like making copies. At the self-service copy machines, people make everyday mistakes; Segarra ensures perfect copies every time. And he looks out for customer security, tearing and returning any copies with mistakes to customers: “Throw it out,” he says firmly, especially to older clients, about papers that often contain sensitive information.   

The space, which was previously a cleaners business, underwent extensive renovations before Segarra and Márquez could open Art Retail Therapy. Photo courtesy of Art Retail Therapy

Making it homey yet cool

In meeting these basic needs, Segarra and Márquez have stayed true to Segarra’s philosophy for the shop: function fused with beauty, safe space with high quality. 

It’s a vision that was built into their renovation. Márquez, who has friends that are wheelchair users, and Segarra, who had seen people in the neighborhood with walkers, knew they couldn’t just maximize small spaces. They made it a point to build wheelchair-accessible door and aisles. 

This philosophy is also seen in the furniture they collected and strategically arranged. The shop showcases Segarra’s penchant for minimalist design and repurposed objects. There’s also a nod to Márquez’s preference for classic looks and a love of aesthetic excess. Polished wood shelves coexist with Hello Kitty kitsch, “Make America Gay Again” decals, and bright green origami tortoises— all in a wide open room with a high ceiling and bright lights. 

“I was like, ‘let’s make people think that Brooklyn has come to Queens,’” Segarra said.

Apart from the look of the space, Segarra wanted to offer the kind of high-quality customer service he had learned through Patel and the women in his family. Patel knew his merchandise like the back of his hand and could tell customers, with razor-sharp certainty, exactly where they could find an item. 

A community event at Art Retail Therapy. Photo courtesy of Art Retail Therapy

An oasis for local artists

Segarra and Márquez push all the furniture to the back of the space before the weekly figure drawing class. The popular offering was on their wish lists early on. It was especially crucial for Segarra, who had once worked as a figure model and had been treated badly, to take care of their models. That can be as simple as ensuring models have a place to change and store their belongings, he said.   

“I got really emotional about it because I couldn’t believe that not only was [the store] just opened and not only did it get filled with art supplies, but now the other part of everything that I thought about when I first came in was coming true,” he said. “The community was in the store having a drawing session when they never had a place in Jackson Heights to come do it.”

He wants to offer the space for budding older artists too: “I find that a lot of my clients are what people call ‘of the third age,’ they want to be able to be involved in something, they have a limited income,” he said. A class where older adults get to copy classic paintings is set to start by May 2024. 

This inclusivity and responsiveness to people’s needs is all part of the spirit of his mentor as well as the women who raised him, Segarra says. 

“It was a love project — it started off as this cool thing to run an art store,” he says. “And now I get [people saying] ‘everything I need is here.’”

Art Retail Therapy Credit: Art Retail Therapy

Art Retail Therapy 

84-26 37th Ave, Queens, NY 11372

Everyday 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 




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1 Comment

  1. So glad to visit from Sunnyside and find community here at Linda Ganjian’s Art exhibition in collab w/Art Retail Therapy!
    And an Art Supply store that offers practical services to Spanish seekers at a time when paper-crunching for social services is the norm. Excelente, much needed way to bring generations together. Mentor Patel is a wise person.

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