Manny’s Art Supplies gets a fresh look while remaining true to its customers.
By Victoria Ritter
Nestled in New Paltz, N.Y., located about halfway between Albany and The Big Apple, is a unique fine-art-and-craft store that’s been in operation for more than 60 years. Zack Delfavero, new owner of Manny’s Art Supplies, calls the shop “a New Paltz miracle,” crediting the community for supporting the store through the decades. He recently shared the history of Manny’s and what makes the shop stand apart.
Filling a Local Niche
Oil painter Manny Lipton founded Manny’s Art Supplies in 1962 as a solution to the lack of local art stores. Lipton began by selling art supplies and books to students attending State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, just a block away. The inventory slowly evolved to focus on just art and craft supplies. “Manny was very much a businessman and filled any need that our town had,” Delfavero said. “There are so many stories of Manny diving into a pile of books and coming out with exactly what customers needed.”
When Manny retired, his daughter Marilyn became the owner. Last April, she sold it to Delfavero and his wife, Amanda. While the Delfaveros are not members of the Lipton family, they worked at Manny’s for the past decade. The couple met while studying at SUNY New Paltz, where Delfavero received a printmaking degree and Amanda earned a sociology degree.
Today they and their two employees work hard to meet their customers’ needs.
When Lipton owned and operated the shop, it had floor-to-ceiling shelves and posters hanging from the ceiling. Since taking ownership, the Delfaveros removed the towering display units and repainted the walls, which makes the 3,000-square-foot interior look and feel bigger. “We haven’t expanded, but everybody who’s come in during the past couple of months thinks we have because the space has opened up to better display the products,” Delfavero said.
Manny’s is an old-fashioned operation: mannysart.com is information only, checkout is a calculator and a cash register and inventory is taken with a pen and paper. With an estimated 50,000 SKUs, year-end inventory management presents one of Delfavero’s biggest challenges. He hopes to install a POS system sometime soon.
Navigating the Market and Trends
Another challenge for Delfavero is competing with big box stores and online vendors. However, Manny’s has a tried-and-true trick up its sleeve: it offers exclusive products, plus unique and hard-to-find items that become hot sellers. Examples include body products – soaps, body and room sprays and scented rollers made by Amanda – and handmade collage greeting cards. One of the most popular items is an “artist mystery bag” that contains a selection of products that are unknown to the customer. Some bags have drawing supplies, others have painting products and others still may have a combination of items. Delfavero hopes the bags inspire customers to explore different art and craft techniques.
Most of Manny’s inventory is supplied by SLS Arts Inc. and MacPherson’s. However, to differentiate their mix from other stores that carry the same brands, the Delfaveros search for unique items from small, niche companies whose values align with theirs, including ones that are eco-friendly or companies that donate to charitable causes. “We want to use our position owning this store to do good things whenever we can,” Delfavero said.
Among its vendors are The Crafty Kit Company based in Scotland, Natural Art Paints from Oregon and fine-art manufacturer ROSA from Ukraine.
In addition to offering paints, charcoal, colored pencils, clay, easels and canvases, printmaking items, spray paint and more than 200 different kinds of sketchbooks, Manny’s devotes about one-sixth of the store to craft products. It includes sewing and embroidery supplies, miniatures for model makers, fabric paint and beads. “People love our craft supply collection,” Delfavero stated. “There’s nowhere else to buy yarn in New Paltz. It’s nice that people can come here to get sewing supplies and yarn without having to travel.”
He says that art supply trends are long-lasting; Posca and paint markers, for instance, have been popular for a while. Crafting trends, however, change more frequently. In the past year, the Delfaveros have seen interest increase in diamond art kits – similar to Paint by Numbers, just with rhinestones – and needle felting.
As new storeowners, the Delfaveros have not travelled to many tradeshows to shop product ideas – they recently attended their first one, NY NOW Winter Market in February – but they are open to attending Creativation by NAMTA and distributor shows in the future. “We’d like to bring our presence out there as much as we can and also learn about what the world has to offer to us,” Delfavero said.
More Than a Store
Delfavero believes family-owned art supplies stores like Manny’s are special. He’s grateful for the way they operate as creative outlets for members of their communities, and provide quality in-store experiences while building trust with customers. He affably considers Manny’s to be a “very weird, strange store” where customers leave their stress at the door. He has heard shoppers yell in delight when they find a particular item and has seen others dance to the music being played over the speakers. “We’ve only owned the store for about a year, but it’s been such a fun year,” Delfavero stated.
A large percentage of Manny’s customers come from SUNY New Paltz; some patrons visit every day. The lulls that occur during academic breaks are filled by tourists and die-hard artists and crafters who drive from out-of-town, even New York City, to shop at the store. No matter if they’re serving regular customers or newcomers, the Delfaveros strive to make sure they leave happy.
“Helping people out with anything that they ask for, it’s a true connection that people remember and think about,” Delfavero said. “You really can’t get that anywhere else.”