After 37 years, McGowan is closing the doors

McGowan owner Sarah Chaffee (right) announces the closing of the gallery with former owner and founder Mary McGowan.
McGowan owner Sarah Chaffee (right) announces the closing of the gallery with former owner and founder Mary McGowan.

If you live in Concord and happen to like art, then surely you’ve wandered around McGowan Fine Art.

It’s what you’d consider an art institution in these parts, having been in business for 37 years. With a new show every month or so, the walls are always filled with something vibrant or thought provoking.

But since the recession hit almost 10 years ago, things haven’t been easy for owner Sarah Chaffee. And a few weeks back, Chaffee made the toughest decision any small business owner ever has to – to close up shop.

“Just looking at the figures and where we were going, it just came to me,” Chaffee said. “Without a paycheck, there’s only so long you can do it.”

McGowan will be open through July 7, as the current exhibit, Color Play, featuring the works of Natalie Blake, Cathy Chin and Amy Goodwin, is on display through June 2, followed by one final show, Color of Seasons, with the paintings of Bruce McColl.

“I know how hard he worked toward (the exhibit) and I just didn’t want to pull the rug out from underneath him,” she said.

And FYI, for those of you who use the McGowan framing shop, the last day for drop-offs is June 7.

For years, Chaffee has been making it work. The business would go through ebbs and flows of good months and not so good months, but recently she came to the realization that financially, things just weren’t going in the right direction and there were no signs that it would bounce back.

“People go into businesses like this or any retail business because they love it,” Chaffee said. “People just aren’t buying what I’ve got.”

As you might expect, she stayed open all this time for a few very important reasons.

“I felt an obligation to my employees, my artists and the community, so I kept going,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee celebrated 20 years with McGowan earlier this year, and had hoped for many more years to come. She had exhibits lined up through 2018, which is what makes it so hard to close the doors.

The gallery works with more than 75 artists from Concord, around New Hampshire and surrounding states. There’s local favorites like Melissa Anne Miller, John Bonner and Bob Larsen, and many show at galleries all over New England and beyond.

So once Chaffee made her decision, she made sure the people who mattered the most heard the news directly from her. She spoke with Mary McGowan, who opened the gallery back in 1980, her employees and her artists.

Then she announced it to those who came to the closing reception for the exhibit that celebrated 20 years of her vision at the gallery.

With a couple months until McGowan turns the lights out one last time, Chaffee has some time to figure out her next step.

“If somebody would like to buy a slightly used gallery, have I got something for them,” Chaffee joked.

With an art degree and more than two decades in the industry, Chaffee would love to stay in the art world. It all depends on what opportunities she finds.

“You have no idea how much information is crammed into this head,” Chaffee said. “It sounds egotistical, but I know a lot.”

But she’s most concerned with her staff and artists.

“I hope everybody lands somewhere happy,” Chaffee said. “And I hope wherever they go, people appreciate them.”

One of her biggest regrets? Not buying more art for her personal collection.

“I thought I had more time to find the perfect John Bonner,” she said.

And, of course, not being able to keep the gallery open for 20 more years.

“I’m happy with the job I did,” Chaffee said. “I think I ran a top-notch gallery with some very talented artists.”

Author: Tim Goodwin

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