Last spring Ron and I went to downtown Greenville on a Sunday afternoon to explore. We were amazed at how beautiful it is. The city has broad avenues lined with trees that over-reach the roads and create a leafy canopy. There are cute shops and interesting restaurants, but because it was Sunday, almost everything was closed. One gallery caught our eye and we could see people inside, so we hurried in.
The space was an explosion of color and form, and I got excited to examine the art the shop contained. The owner of the gallery turned to us and said flatly, “I’m closed.”
“Can we take a quick look around?” I asked.
“Well,” she answered, “I’ll be leaving in just a few minutes…”
So we started looking around. The first thing that caught my eye were some photographs that I also carry at Chifferobe. Her prices were much higher than mine, and I asked her if she sold many of these. She told me she sold lots and lots of them.
“That’s funny,” I explained. “I have the same work in my shop and I charge much less, but I haven’t sold any.”
“WHAT??” she demanded. “You sell this work for less than I do? You can’t do that!!”
Now I admit I am a newcomer to retail and have no clue to what I am doing, but I don’t remember the photographer’s wife who sold me the prints telling me how much to sell them for. She might have, but my mind….I certainly didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I did want to sell the work, so I had marked them down.
She fanned herself with her hand and looked as if she might pass out. “What if one of my customers came to your shop and saw the work for so much less money?? This is terrible. I’m calling Jacko and telling him what you are doing. Oh, this is not right!”
I apologized and asked her politely (?) to justify the high price she was asking. “Jacko is a world-renowned photographer. His work is in museums and has appeared in Harper’s Magazine. There is a book written about him. There is a set price on these photos and you cannot reduce it!”
“I get it!” I answered sincerely “I’m so sorry. When I get back to Black Mountain, I’ll adjust the prices.”
Apparently, that wasn’t enough for her. She was thrashing around moving papers from one place to another. I thought she might burst into flame. “Let’s buy something,” I whispered to Ron. We looked around and saw quite a few pieces that we really liked. When I asked the price of each of these five or six objects, she snapped, “These are not for sale. This is my personal collection and I won’t sell them.”
I thought it was unlikely that she would fill her showroom with work she didn’t want to sell, but let it go. I probably couldn’t afford the pieces anyway.
I did come back to Black Mountain and raised the prices, but not to her level. A year went by.
Yesterday an attractive, well-dressed man came in and admired the photos. I gave him the spiel about Jacko Vassilev, the photographer, being from Bulgaria, and how the photos were taken in the 1980’s during the rise of Communism there. I said he was an internationally recognized photographer, etcetera.
“I’m Jacko,” he said softly.
For a minute I was scared. Scared that he would be angry at my prices. Angry at how I framed them. Angry at how they are displayed. Instead he smiled broadly and gave me a hug. I breathed a sigh of relief. That gallery owner had indeed called him and raged at my underhanded methods, and he came to explain. His pieces are sold at set prices and it hurts his brand if someone sells them for less. He told me how much to price each one and begged me not to reduce the prices. I agreed, because I am a people pleaser.
He then explained that his life was at risk in Bulgaria because he was opposed to Communism. He hid the images and fled the country. He is thrilled to live in the United States now, and he continues to photograph common people. He is a kind and generous person and deserves to get his set prices on these images that are now in art museums all over Europe. I’m glad to help in any way I can. He told me the story of my favorite photo: the two women laughing. He was in Bulgaria and saw these two life-long friends sitting on a bench drinking wine. He went over to say hello, and they invited him to join them. He declined, telling them he was the only Bulgarian male who neither smoked nor drank. They burst out laughing and he snapped the shot. Their mirth is contagious.