Asel Art Supply prepares to close its doors for the final time
Asel Art Supply in Fort Worth’s West 7th neighborhood will close its doors for the final time on Christmas Eve.
After more than 70 years in business, its parent company, Asel Art Supply Inc., is shuttering all of its locations across the state.
The Dallas-based business opened in January of 1951. Over the years, the addition of stores in cities like Fort Worth, Lubbock and San Antonio cemented the company as one of Texas’ premier retailers serving artists.
When Asel announced the sale of its flagship location on Aug. 30, the business assured its Facebook followers that all other locations would remain open, but a subsequent post Oct. 21 announced that all stores would close by the end of the year.
In a September Dallas Observer story, the company’s president Susan Smolenski said after turning down multiple offers to purchase its Cedar Springs location over the years, the company received an offer that was, “bigger than any one we’ve ever had before,” and decided to accept it.
Smolenski was not available for an interview, but emailed the following statement to the Report: “We decided to close the business because of a number of factors including among others the ongoing supply chain issues that continue to hinder our ability to serve our customers at the level that they have come to expect. We have very much appreciated the support of the community and will miss the friends we have made over the years.”
The news hit the satellite stores and its customer base hard. Over 200 people commented on the announcement, with one patron comparing the closure to the loss of a friend.
“Once they sold and planned not to reopen, we saw the domino effect coming that our stores weren’t going to be able to stay open without our corporate store running,” Michael Moffatt, manager of the Fort Worth location, said.
He has worked at the store for over 14 years and has been a manager for more than eight. He said the final weeks of running the store have been difficult.
“It’s emotional. Some of us have been here a long, long time. We’re very close to our customers, so it’s really tough,” Moffatt said. “Asel’s has been home for a long time. We’re just proud of what we did the time we were here.”
The Fort Worth store was able to serve its customers in the early days of the pandemic by switching to a drive-up model while other retailers closed, but those sales accounted for less than a quarter of regular sales, he said.
Kinks and consolidation in the supply chain also slowed business down.
Canvas is one of his location’s best-selling products, but when one rival supplier absorbed the other, the supply of canvas didn’t keep up with the demand.
“For almost a year, we were without our main product, which is canvas, in a real substantial way,” he said. “We were hit really hard with that, and it never really got cleaned up.”
As the pool of suppliers the store relied on shrunk, promotional offers and competitive pricing also started to recede.
Artist and customer Scott Lennox started shopping at Asel’s Fort Worth branch more than 30 years ago when he was working as a commercial photographer. Now, Lennox works in graphite, watercolor and oil paints, and he said he is lamenting the closure of his go-to art supply store.
For Lennox, it’s not just about the array and quality of the wares — though he mentioned he appreciates both — customer service was another draw.
“The staff are very knowledgeable. They know what they’re talking about. They know the materials very well,” he said. “I don’t want to have to go to Dallas to find art supplies, and I’d rather not find them online if I can.”
Rocky Daniels, manager of Asel Art’s Richardson location, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s like going to a friend’s house or acquaintance’s for Thanksgiving rather than going home,” he explained. “You build relationships with people and the information they got from us rather than going to other big businesses was just something that kept them coming back versus going to other stores and shopping online.”
While traffic dipped in the early days of the pandemic, Daniels and Moffatt said that sales at their stores have bounced back.
Moffatt, who is also an artist himself, said that Fort Worth is large enough to support an art supply store and that there is a loyal customer base here who want to shop at businesses that help support the community.
The West 7th store frequently worked with local instructors at Tarrant County College and Texas Christian University to put together kits for students enrolled in art and design courses. The packages often included hard to find materials like T-squares and vellum and were offered at a discount ranging between 25-30%, Moffatt said.
Losing Asel Art Supply is hard to accept for many loyal customers, including Lennox.
“I keep hoping that a savior will show up somewhere and either start another enterprise or save this one,” he said. “There’s not anything equivalent in this area… and I don’t see a suitable replacement on the horizon.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.