After 32 years, at four locations, Jean Stephen Galleries is closing.
The fine art gallery moved from the Nicollet Mall to St. Louis Park in 2013. Co-owners and spouses Jean and Steve Danko will be at the gallery, 4811 Excelsior Blvd., until the end of April. After Steve undergoes knee surgery and rehabs, they are looking forward to traveling and entertaining grandkids.
Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” will stay outside the gallery for a while. The owner of the building has told the Dankos that they don’t have to rush to remove the sculpture before cleaning out their space.
“We are pretty clearly” the biggest seller of Dr. Seuss in the Midwest, Steve said, estimating total sales at $3 million to $5 million. “Dr. Seuss has always struck a nerve with people. About a month ago, I flew into Coronado, California, to give a talk about Dr. Seuss, of all things.”
Over time, the Dankos became close friends of Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’ (Theodor Geisel) widow and founder of Seuss Enterprises, who died in December.
Here’s the rest of my conversation with Steve:
Q: Did your business take much of a hit when you left downtown?
A: We took a bit of a hit. We missed the tourists. So much of our sales are from out-of-state and out-of-town. We lost that, and it was a shame. Rent’s less, but we preferred being on Nicollet Mall. For us it’s almost a personal thing. The skyways you can walk throughout the year, and being downtown has got a certain oomph to it that you just don’t get in other spots in the Cities.
Q: How much did your business change in 32 years?
A: Dramatically. When we first started in 1987, people would sit up one day and say, “You know, we need something above our couch.” Then they would go to two or three art galleries in the area. They’d go to a furniture store. They’d make a decision. They’d come back and buy. That was how it was. It was 100 percent local. Maybe some visitors. Today, a lot of our business is internet-based. We probably ship 80 to 90 percent of the art we sell. We’re basically more of a national and often international gallery. A lot of it is that’s just where the art market has gone, sadly enough.
Q: How often do you have to tell people that their art should not match their furniture?
A: [Big laugh] We still do that quite a bit. We used to have people come in with wallpaper swatches and parts of the carpet. The part that almost won the day — often, didn’t always — [was saying], “Well, when you repaint the living room, do you want to throw away your art?”
Q: To own an art gallery you have to be independently wealthy, I’m thinking?
A: It’d be nice if we were. [The gallery] gave us a good life, but we weren’t independently wealthy, sadly enough. I was successful as an audit director at Pillsbury when we started the gallery. We basically had to make ourselves.
Q: Is your home crammed with art?
A: We have quite a bit. It’s not top to bottom crammed. We’ve got, for example, this artist, Michael Parkes, I think we have four in the living room; some Yuroz, probably about five; Frederick Hart sculptures in the living room. We’ve got a lot in different spots. Same token, we do host three very young grandkids. [Smile] It sort of limits what you can do.
Q: So you have to artproof your house for the grandkids?
A: Or kidproof our art. [Laughs]
Q: You work with your wife. How can a visitor to the gallery tell if you’ve gotten on each other’s nerves?
A: We don’t get on each other’s nerves. We have areas we both excel in — we both sell art. But the simple fact of the matter is that there are times Jean says things I don’t like her saying and I say things she doesn’t like me saying. OK. The other part is that if that happens, usually we have someone else around us and we handle it very gingerly. Rarely do we go home angry because of anything that happened in the gallery.
Q: You both have rather mild personalities?
A: [Laugh] I guess you’re right. Maybe that’s why we’ve been able to do this for 30 years and remain married and happy and all that.
Q: You’ve experienced no sales-related backlash to interpretations of Dr. Seuss as racist?
A: No. That was big about 10 years ago.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.