BENNINGTON — Jay’s Art Shop & Frame Gallery celebrated its 50th anniversary on Friday with a 50% off sale, an honorary ribbon cutting and lots of support downtown.
Jenny Dewar of Better Bennington Corp. presented a plaque to Jay and Joan Zwynenburg and said a few words in honor of Bennington’s longtime business. She described the first time the BBC took her to meet Zwynenburg.
“Jay walked us through each aisle and showed us everything. They took us downstairs to the framing shop… we were instantly charmed by Jay,” she said.
Several members of the BBC, City Manager Stuart Hurd and several other members of the community were present at the honorary opening.
Zwynenburg, who is about to turn 90, opened Jay’s Art Shop on May 1, 1972 with his wife, Joan. They met in 1955 on the campus of the University of Vermont. Jay said, “I winked at her, and she smiled, and the rest is history.”
Zwynenburg worked for IBM in New York before deciding to give up his top-floor corner office to buy a bookstore at 416 Main St. Zwynenburg said his colleagues refused to believe he was leaving the company for a bookstore, so he “came here and took pictures of us” for evidence.
Eventually, Zwynenburg had seven different stores, including the Bennington Bookstore. Over time, he sold them all except one – Jay’s Art Shop & Frame Gallery. But even that has been reduced. An art gallery once existed above the shop, but it has been converted into condos. Yet underneath the shop is their in-house framing studio, where they create custom frames for clients.
During his time as a business owner in Bennington, the biggest hurdle Zwynenburg said he had to overcome was the interest rates of the 1980s. He had what he called “large bank loans” and he worried about rising prime rates, even though his bills were always paid on time.
Other than that, he said, “it’s just – I wouldn’t say smooth sailing but – smooth sailing.”
It’s been 50 years, but Zwynenburg said he “can’t go on forever.” He hopes someone will eventually take over the business, buy the inventory, and “do him justice.”
“It was a really nice ride,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that 50 years have passed so quickly.”