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Meet Paula Coben Owner of Gallery Five-Tequesta Florida

Paula Coben at Gallery Five

TRR visited with Gallery Five owner, Paula Coben.   Gallery Five provides a warm, welcoming atmosphere .  Paul Coben has built all of the fixtures and displays for the store. There are 64 drawers for browsing which is highly encouraged.  When you walk into Gallery Five your curiosity is peaked.  The chimes which are solar-powered offer gentle background music.  There is a comfortable sitting area in the midst of the gallery and a 1/2 price sale selection in the back room.  With prices ranging from $10.00- $1,000, there is something for every budget including jewelry, wearable art clothing, decorative home accessories, and items for men.

TRR: What did you want to be when you grew up?

I liked clothes but I really  wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I was short, so I usually got lost in the crowd.  I always liked interesting clothes.  Then I discovered people will notice you if you wear interesting clothes.

TRR:  What/who  were your early influences in deciding to  create a retail store for artists?

Actually, opening a store was an accident.  When I was young, I got  married and had children and was a housewife, because that is what people did  in my day.  I also played golf.  At age 40, I became a single mother facing an identity crisis and ageism.  In 1971,  I  was rejected from nursing school because I was “too old!”  I told them I had at least 30 years to give to  the profession and now look, it is 40 years later and I am still going strong!  So I went to school to become a medical secretary.  I was not particularly happy and stayed only 6 months.  They put me down because of my age again.  I had always loved crafts and had many hobbies using my creativity.  In 1974, I had an idea for a crafts school, where professional artists would teach women hobbies such as calligraphy, weaving and pottery classes.  I had found that when I went to a shop, the crafts person could not take care of their retail customers and teach students at the same time, so a friend and I went into business, hiring the teachers and offering classes.  She felt that I didn’t deserve to get 1/2 of our profits because all I was doing was putting pottery in the kiln and setting up classes and she was teaching classes.

TRR: Delineating job roles and parameters in a partnership is sometimes difficult.

Yes, so after about a year, I bought her out.  I opened Paula’s Place in Marlton, NJ.  I was very scared and frightened because I really wasn’t a people person and I was putting myself in a situation where I had to interact with people on a daily basis.  But I was determined in my role as a new single mother and forced myself to do something I enjoyed.  I enjoyed crafts.  I was fortunate that two of my daughters were grown and I had one daughter in high school.  I was trying to find my identity.  In the 70’s,  I was anything but myself.  My identity was the wife of someone or the mother of someone and now I was going to be me!  As my friends said, the caterpillar became a butterfly!

TRR: Tell us how Gallery Five began and grew into what it is today.

I was in business for about eight years when I was introduced to Paul Coben.  Paul thought the name “Paula’s Place” was a stupid name – it could have been a beauty parlor.

TRR: It gave you an identity but it didn’t give the place an identity.

Right.  About a year later, we married and went on a trip to FL.  As we thought about moving down here and starting our new life together, Paul asked me what I would name my next place and I answered right away “Gallery Five” because five is my lucky number.  We lived at number five and the shop we rented in Tequesta, Florida was number five.  Gallery Five was started on a whim.  This year is our 30th season! Although we started out with mostly crafts, I realized that we needed more diverse merchandise to bring in more customers, so I added wearable art.  I didn’t want to be a dress store, but felt this was a blending of craft and clothing.  We developed a niche introducing only American artists.  We sell affordable clothing that is handcrafted by an individual artist, not mass produced.

TRR: Actually, now that is more politically correct but at that time it was visionary on your part.

Buying American is more in vogue now than ever before.  From the very beginning, I wanted to represent American artists.  Now there are television shows about items that are “Made in America. ”

TRR: Are you drawn to any particular medium in the art world?  

I love everything!  I have tried stained glass, pottery, knitting, and weaving.  I am passionate about designing clothing, especially for smaller women like myself. Gallery Five offers a wide range of sizes.  I get a lot of satisfaction in guiding the artisans I represent in considering how to meet the needs and demands of different women’s shapes.  It is still challenging for them to understand a woman’s body.  It has to be more than just creating the piece.  It is creating the piece for an individual.  Not everyone is open to this, but in today’s economy they are listening more because they want their clothing to sell.

TRR: Do you have any hobbies now?

I tend to spend my time developing new ideas for my business. With the help of my daughter Cathy, we are expanding our web-based business to augment our physical store.  This is the wave of the future.

TRR:  What is your favorite aspect of your business?

My favorite part is going on buying trips.  I go all over the country, to some far-reaching areas to bring back creations from artisans that my customers would otherwise not see. I go with no preconceived agenda of what I will be buying.   I am very spontaneous.  If something sparks me, I buy it.

TRR: For example, do you ever think to yourself “I have so many scarves back in the store, do I really need more?”

No, if I like it, I buy it.

TRR:  What is the most challenging part of your business?

The most challenging part of my business is reaching the customers.  We advertise in the newspapers, have in-house fashion shows, and offer fundraisers to non-profit groups as well as blogging.  We are trying to reach the people who like crafts because they also tend to want to dress in a more interesting way.  New customers often will come because their friend shops here, so word-of-mouth referrals are important.

TRR:  So actually your customers are your best advertisement.

My policy is that anyone who buys something to wear must not only be satisfied and happy with the purchase, but it must look good on them.  I don’t want them to leave the store if they don’t look their best.

TRR:  So the customer isn’t just buying jewelry or a piece of clothing. They are buying a look for themselves that is going to enhance people’s impression of them.

TRR:  Do you have any tips for artists who have not been represented by a gallery before ? 

I strongly urge the artist to come into the gallery and see what merchandise is being offered.  Then call, email, or send a letter to the gallery owner ahead of time for an appointment to show their work.  Just showing up without an appointment or introduction is a real turn-off.  If the artist lives far away, they should send a photo or sample of their work.  After the appointment, follow up with an email or phone call. The gallery owner has to be open to looking at something new.  I have a very open mind and will look at everything.

TRR:  What about pricing?  So many artists who are moving from a hobby to a business have difficulty with this part.

Pricing is usually based on material costs plus the amount of time it takes to create the work.   It is rare to recoup all of one’s labor, so be realistic.  What is a customer going to pay for your product?  What is the perceived value  in the eyes of the potential customer? It takes time to get money out of any art.  You have to start at the bottom.  Once you get more prestige and more people know about you, then you can ask a higher price than when you started.  People need to learn that this process takes time. 

TRR: It is a learning experience.  And it is your role as the gallery owner to help the artist with that struggle.

I enjoy mentoring new artists, making suggestions, being supportive.  We develop a personal relationship.   I’ve been to dinner with many artists and met their families.  I also suggest they familiarize themselves with magazines or websites that are specific to their craft.  Go to seminars.  Talk to their fellow artists.  I especially like “The Crafts Report”, as it covers a wide range of crafts and areas of the country.

TRR: How do you discover the artists and craftspeople to show in Gallery Five?

I go to craft fairs, juried shows and to-the-trade shows all over the United States. Reading magazines to help forecast the newest trends and going to other craft stores gives me ideas.

TRR: Do you belong to any professional associations? 

I am a member of the American Craft Society. 

TRR: How often does Gallery Five get new items? 

In season, from November through March, Gallery Five is constantly getting new items.  We have eight weekly trunk shows and four showcase events. We mainly use jewelers for our monthly exhibitions. These are wonderful opportunities for the general public to meet the artists.   I used to have pottery shows and even sponsored national competitions, but at this stage of my life, it is too much work for me.

TRR: What suggestions would you give to local artists?

Go to the local craft shows, especially in season.  Meet with local guild members. Find other artists and form a coop.

TRR: How have you have balanced your role as business woman with your family life?

Most artists have two jobs.  Many of them teach in workshops or colleges to supplement their income.  Don’t go into the crafts business if you need a large income on your own.  I spent night and day building this business. During that process, I was lucky to be able to rely on my husband’s income.  Very few craftspeople can survive on the income from their sales.

TRR: How do you relax from the stress of owning a retail operation?

I love to walk the beach and collect shells.

TRR: How do you define success?

Be happy with yourself!

TRR: Are there any new trends on the American craft scene?

I’m finding there is a trend toward dressing more casually.  Lifestyles have changed to a more casual way of life.  People are vacationing on cruises, so they need to travel light.  Now that airlines are charging for baggage, it is more cost efficient to travel light no matter where you are going.  Accessories are a very important part of your wardrobe and take up very little space and weight.  An interesting jacket that isn’t fussy but is unusual can make an outfit special, even an interesting t-shirt can perk up an outfit.

Paula showed me some pants and tops that she just brought back from her trip to CA.  and described them as “elegant casual”.  There is also a trend toward the 60’s and 70’s that she calls “positive nostalgia”.  People are going back to what they are familiar with, especially from their twenties. What was classic when we were growing up, helps us go back to our happy place.  It all depends on what age you are.  When women
want a sophisticated look.  There is a wide variety of options for them at Gallery Five.   

TRR: We’ve talked a lot about clothing, but as I  look around, there are so many wonderful pieces of pottery, clocks, and home accessories.

I carry only one line of functional pottery.  I started with this artist when I first opened and didn’t sell one piece for 5 years.  I liked her work and I believed in her work, so I kept the pieces.  Now, we have customers who collect her work because it is so unusual and so functional.  People just needed time to see it and appreciate it.  Quite a few of my artists have been with me for 30 years.  If an artist gets stuck in a rut, I tend to be less interested.  I want to see growth and something new in their work. We have limited space, so I always like to have new things to show.

Gallery Five is located at:

140 Bridge Rd

Tequesta, FL 33469



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Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420


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