New York art-world landmark Pearl Paint may be closing

After 71 years on Canal Street, time and gentrification seem to have caught up with another New York icon

Photograph: Michael Skigen

As if yesterday's various restaurant closings weren't sad enough, reports are now circulating that Pearl Paint, iconic purveyor of fine-art supplies since 1933, may be closing its flagship store on Canal Street. On Monday, Tribeca Citizen noted a real-estate listing for Pearl's six-story, 11,850-square-foot home, offering the building for sale, rent or teardown. Since then, the listing has been amended to include a $15 million price tag for the property. The store's owners have not yet confirmed the closing, but items are reportedly being offered at a 30 percent discount. Similar price cuts were made at Pearl's additional Manhattan locations before those stores were shuttered in 2010.

It's hard to exaggerate the significance of Pearl Paint for New York artists or the New York art world. Its location in the heart of Soho undoubtedly helped to foster the area's transition from gritty industrial area to booming artist neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Even as artists began to be priced out of Soho in the 1980s, Pearl Paint remained—as it did when the last of the art galleries left for Chelsea in the 1990s as the nabe completed its evolution into an upscale shopping mecca. Time and the unstoppable forces of gentrification have apparently claimed another New York landmark, but on a brighter note, Pearl's stores in South Miami and Fort Lauderdale—as well as its Paramus, New Jersey, location—don't seem to be going anywhere.


It's official: Pearl Paint's  legendary flagship store was shuttered on April 17, signaling the final end of the era when Soho and Tribeca served as homes for the city's artists and galleries. The writing had been on the wall for Pearl for some time, as poorly stocked shelves and withering numbers of customer became a usual sight in the store. But that was just a symptom of a larger problem. Over the past 20 to 30 years, it's become increasingly difficult to be an artist in New York City, thanks to rising rents driven by gentrification—a development that has rebounded to the advantage of other cities, such as Berlin and Los Angeles, where relatively cheap costs of living have attracted an influx of artists. Although New York certainly retains vibrant communities of artists, they are largely being pushed further and further into the outer boroughs, leaving Manhattan and inner Brooklyn for a very small percentage of artists who happen to be independently wealthy. The situation has already had a huge impact on the role of New York within the contemporary art world, as the city has transited from being a center of artistic innovation to being a commercial hub of a global—and arguably highly inflated—art market. The closing of an institution like Pearl Paint is only an outward sign of something that's been going on for awhile now.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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