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Lockport gallery has new owner, new vision

LOCKPORT – Heather Grimmer liked the Market Street Art Center so much, she went out and bought it.

Now the sprawling facility in a former industrial building at 247 Market St. has a new name, ART247, and a new vision for being a community events center as well as a place for local artists to rent space and show off their works.

Grimmer, 34, studied architecture at Syracuse University and has worked in roles ranging from fast-food manager to newspaper photographer to website owner.

“I found I was allergic to wheat, so I can’t work in the restaurant industry anymore,” she said.

The Lockport resident, who also is a member of the Niagara County Auxiliary Police, has been a studio artist at Market Street, and she said that as owner, she’s building on the foundation the previous gallery owners and managers have laid.

“We’re going to be offering more classes, more education programs for the community,” Grimmer said.

The three-story facility has about 34 artists renting studios now and is nearly full, although there are two open studios that are being set aside for drop-in one-day rentals for $15.

“We’ve got a waiting list,” Grimmer said. “We’ve got unrenovated space in the facility that will help guide us.”

The old Western Block Co. building, which dates from the mid-19th century, includes more than 250,000 square feet of space. There are actually three separate stone buildings, and a few separate businesses in the complex, for whom Grimmer is now the landlord. But 60 percent of the space is currently unused, despite the existing studios and two galleries, along with upstairs classrooms that can be rented.

She was offered the property by the former owners, Art Hilger and his sister, Sally Bisher, in late 2015. Hilger approached her first.

Grimmer said, “It was actually a funny conversation on a weekend. I was asked if I’d like to run this, and I said, ‘Oh, to be around art 24/7 would be fantastic.’ Then I realized they were serious.”

The purchase price was not disclosed.

“You are the right person to take us forward,” Bisher told Grimmer during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the center Feb. 6.

Bisher said after the ceremony, “Art and I have been doing this a long time, and we’re both at the age where we should be retired. It took us a while to find the right person, and Heather is the right person. She’s been a studio artist here for several years. She knew we wanted to sell it. We talked to a couple of people and that didn’t work out, so we said something to her, and she just took it and ran with it.”

Her ideas include a cafe, an arts library, a gift shop and what the architectural plans call “a multiuse reception, gala, community theater and event space,” along with an outdoor events garden.

“I would like to hold annual galas. The space you saw would host banquets and larger receptions, and give us the opportunity to hold art fairs,” But the building also needs some roof repair and window replacements, and a solar panel feasibility study is part of the plan, too.

Grimmer said Lockport is a good place for artists because of its natural landscapes and history. “We’ve got a very passionate crew of artists,” she said.

“She’s got a vision that’s just incredible, an incredible vision,” said Kristine Gazzo, a painter who has been renting space in the center for 15 years. “A lot more classroom space, a great deal of community outreach, which we’ve been working on over the years.” Grimmer said, “All the jobs I’ve had thus far have kind of trained me for something exactly like this. For me, it’s kind of a natural flow into what I’m already familiar with, but I think it’s an exciting opportunity for both Lockport and myself.”