SODO Steps Up: Allison & Ross Fine Art Services
Story: Jim Meyers
By now, you may have heard that there is a pandemic shaking the world to its foundations. As you are also likely aware, we humans are an incredibly adaptive and resilient lot. While the medical world pours its resources into finding a vaccine and improving outcomes for those infected with this new disease, it’s not surprising that the rest of us are forging ahead, seeking tirelessly and instinctively to find our new normal. The show must go on after all.
Perhaps nowhere is this impetus to forge ahead so present as in the business community. After a few weeks of uncertainty way back in February and March of 2020, businesses, as always, began seeking out opportunities. Primary amongst those was for basic survival in this new normal. But there was also a glimpse of something more; the underlying community that holds our city – and indeed out world – together. It came in the form of people coming together to fill the void left by a unprecedented spike in demand for PPE. The retooling for many businesses to step up and take part in the effort to supply our essential medical workers with the personal protective equipment they needed was particularly evident here in SODO, the home to much of Seattle’s manufacturing muscle.
I recently spoke with a few of the SODO businesses that took the initiative to step up in a time of need, and this series is about them, with a short set of questions aimed at discovering why. While some manufacturers simply modified what they already did to step in, others, like our first featured business, Allison & Ross fine Art Services, moved into an entirely new paradigm, just to be able to help in a time of need. From pure philanthropy, to lasting shifts in business plans, these SODO businesses stepped up to make a difference.
SODO Step-Up: A conversation with Carey Ross, Owner and Co-Founder of Allison & Ross Fine Art Services.
For those that might mistake you for just a frame shop, can you tell me a bit about the breadth of your services and who your customers are?
At Allison & Ross, our mission for the last 40 years has been to provide every service our clients might need to protect and enjoy their art. This includes framing, but also art maintenance and conservation, transportation, installation, art documentation, and collections management. We work with art in all mediums, from small-scale 2D works like paintings and drawings, to large- scale 3D sculptures and mixed-media pieces. Our clients also run the gamut—we work with private collectors, museums, galleries, and interior designers, and with large corporate clients
and healthcare providers including Swedish Health Services and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
How and when did you get involved in making PPE? What was the genesis?
In April, soon after the lockdown took effect, we decided to turn our art fitting area (the clean side of our shop where we do art conservation and place art in finished frames) into a production zone for emergency face shields. This was the moment when there was a critical PPE shortage in Seattle, and we felt compelled to help, especially because we already had many of the tools and supplies needed. It was something tangible we could do to help when our community was in a moment of crisis. We reached out to one of our corporate clients, F5, who generously donated funds to help us with the cost of materials and labor. All told, we donated over 400 emergency face shields to local hospitals and medical centers, and nearly 100 more to Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County for their silent march on June 12.
How did this shift alter your business model? Was it a good thing for your business? Was all about numbers and staying afloat or was there a “this is the right thing to do” ethos behind it? (or both?)
For the PPE project, there was definitely a “this is the right thing to do” ethos behind it. When that project came to a natural close and we turned back to our art management services, we developed best practices around how to serve our clients safely and make sure our staff remained safe. In that vein, we’ve moved to an “appointment only” model, scheduling clients
to our showroom in advance so we can ensure there’s always ample social distancing. While this may have started as a necessity, we’ve found that working by appointment has actually allowed us to serve our clients more effectively and give them the concierge-level service they’ve come to expect from Allison & Ross. Surprisingly, altering our business model to make for a safer client experience has also allowed us to make our services more personalized.
Are you still making PPE today?
The PPE project has wrapped. We had initially committed to making 500 units, so once we produced those and distributed them, the project came to a natural close. We needed to shut down normal operations in our frame shop to produce the face shields, so it wasn’t something we could continue doing alongside our regular work.
The storybook I have in my head is that it was a nice bridge to get things back on track, felt good while it lasted and you’re now seeing a rebound as things slowly shift back towards something slightly more normal. Is there any truth to that ideal?
Yes, somewhat. Because there was an acute shortage of PPE at the time, it felt like it was the right thing to do. We also took on the PPE project when most operations across all businesses in Seattle had ground to a halt. However, our work flow rebounded quickly. Because we do a lot of work for hospitals and healthcare providers in the area, those projects carried forward and kept us busy. And since then, our private sector work has also picked up. Obviously, people are spending a lot of time at home now, so we are seeing more and more projects with clients wanting to update their living spaces, finally doing those art framing and installation projects.
What is next for Allison & Ross? What is your biggest challenge as a business right now?
For us, this is a moment of continuing to think through how to safely meet our clients’ needs and protect our employees. For example, we’ve developed new protocol around delivering and installing artwork, both to private clients in a residential setting, and to our corporate clients in office and healthcare settings. As we continue to offer the full spectrum of fine art services, we’re committed to protecting our clients and our employees, both in our showroom and out in the community.
Tell me one thing that gives you hope for the future of your business.
One major thing giving us hope right now is our clients. We are so grateful for the ongoing support we’ve received from so many of our clients during these turbulent times. We’re also inspired by the way our internal team at Allison & Ross has pulled together to adapt to these unprecedented challenges. Art is something that holds deep meaning and value for us as
people—it feeds us on an emotional level. During trying times like these, I believe art can help us all feel connected and grounded. I don’t think this will ever change, and it’s something that continues to give me hope, both in my business and outside it.
A special thanks to Seattle’s Office of Economic Development Only in Seattle Program for sponsoring a portion of the SODO Steps Up project.
With a focus on building up small businesses and strengthening our local economy, Seattle’s Office of Economic Development works to foster an economy where no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re from, you can achieve your career and business goals right here in Seattle. OED’s Only in Seattle program supports SODO businesses by partnering with the SODO BIA to advocate for the neighborhood, build community capacity and fund neighborhood programs.