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Back of Bill's Art Store to be erased from Uptown

By Marissa Stipek
On February 18, 2014

When picturing Oxford's iconic High Street stretch, a few notable buildings come to mind: the funky glowing sign labeling Bagel & Deli, the billboard announcing concerts at Brick Street Bar and Grille and the unassuming exterior of the dependable Bill's Art Store.

Located at 20 E. High St., Bill's Art Store has been a fixture in the Oxford community for decades. The building is owned by The Sigma Chi foundation, which was founded there in 1855. In January, Bill's Art Store owner Barb Berry said she received bad news from the Sigma Chi Foundation. Because of poor conditions, the back portion of the building will be demolished May 31 of this year. However, Planner for Community Development Sam Perry said the building may not be set to be demolished on that date.

"The City of Oxford Historic and Architectural Preservation Committee (HAPC) has to approve any demolitions in any historic district," Perry said. "This is in the Uptown district. Approvals would be required-that would be the first step."

Perry said he believes there will be a delay in the demolition of the store.

"What they had discussed was coming to the HAPC meetings in January or February but those meetings have passed," Perry said. "I'm assuming there is some form of communication error."

Perry said he and the Sigma Chi Foundation met in December about demolishing the rear part of the store that extends into the back alley. However, even removing just the back end of the building eliminates valuable space and poses a threat to Bill's Art Store.

According to Berry, Bill worked at the store, became a manager, and eventually bought the business when the previous owner Carol Noe retired.

"He took over in the '90s-'93 or '94-but the building has been here for over 30 years. Its an Oxford landmark," Berry said.

Berry has owned the store since 2011 when her brother passed away. "I want to continue what my brother was doing," Berry said. "Maybe not as good as him, but I want to keep going."

While the store is a stronghold of Oxford tradition, Berry said Bill's real passion was serving Miami University students.

"He loved talking to them and answering their questions," Berry said.

And Bill knew how to keep the students coming in.

"Our purpose is to supply the students with what they need," Berry said. "There are a lot of things we have here that they can't get anywhere else, or that they can't get online and have the next day."

Berry said the store has conformed to meet student's needs.

"It used to have arts supplies and more stuff for crafts, but, when Bill bought it, he started carrying more art and architecture supplies that [Miami University] students needed for classes." Berry said.

Sophomore graphic design major Darby Shanaberger said she has visited Bill's numerous times for school supplies. "For foundation classes [which the majority of art students are required to take] professors require a lot of materials the bookstore doesn't carry," Shanaberger said. "Also the bookstore doesn't have a large selection, so when they run out, Bill's was always my next option."

Shanaberger also said the service is great at Bill's

"They're really helpful," Shanaberger said. "I use matte board in all of my classes for almost all of my projects, and they cut your board for you so you don't have to do it yourself."

Berry said the store's main purpose is to serve students. "We are here because of the students and for the students," Berry said.

With graduation taking place mid-May, Berry said she wants to keep the store open so supplies are available to students until the very end.

Once again, Perry is skeptical whether the timeframe is feasible.

"There are still procedures they have to go through when dealing with an Uptown area," Perry said. "I could see it taking two or three months after getting approval. The HAPC could still determine that the back part is historic as well. No demolition has been approved yet; it may be, but we're not at that point." Should the store close at the end of this school year, Berry said she hopes to move to another space. Berry said the city sent her a spreadsheet of spaces available around that time, but there were not many.

"I have driven by a few, but some were small," Berry said. "We need room. Maybe not as much as we have, but we do need some space. We have a lot of racks and shelves."

Finding a suitable space is hard enough, but pricing is another factor that must be considered.

"Our rent is pretty reasonable right now," Berry said. "There was a space that I know would work out but its a thousand dollars more a month."

Berry said she remains hopeful.

"I have just now been letting people know [about the closing] and I have been getting emails with suggestions," Berry said. "I'm hoping a door will open." Should the art store itself close, the front façade of the building should remain.

"I believe the Sigma Chi Foundation would have interest in preserving the front of the building, because of its historical significance and because it was where the organization was founded," Perry said.

"They are definitely a community partner. I think it's just a lapse in communication," Perry said.

Keeping the store also has sentimental value for Berry. "As long as Bill's store is still going and helping students, his spirit is still here," Berry said. "That's the magic part."

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