Flax Art & Design Celebrates 75 Years

FLAX art & design (www.flaxart.com) , family-owned and operated since 1938, celebrates 75 years as San Francisco’s oldest locally-run supplier of quality materials for creative people. In 1938, Herman Flax opened Flax’s Artists’ Materials in downtown San Francisco, with $100 to invest in inventory and a used cash register, at first living in back of the shop with his family. From this humble beginning, FLAX gathered a loyal following of customers, and expanded to its current location, occupying 20,000 square feet at 1699 Market Street (at Valencia). Now operated by Howard Flax, who represents the family’s third generation along with his sister Leslie Flax Abel, FLAX art & design celebrates this business landmark with special events and promotions throughout 2013, and a grand birthday bash in August.

“FLAX has a long history of being connected to its customers, supporting artists and the Bay Area arts community,” says Howard Flax. “A lot has changed since the early days. Yet for an art store there is one constant, and that is the role we play in fueling a passion for the arts and inspiring creativity. I want to continue the family tradition of a store that is an essential part of our local art community.”

Like many American families, Herman and Sylvia Flax lost virtually everything in the Great Depression. Inspired by the success of Herman’s brother Sam in New York, who got his start selling art supplies out of the trunk of his car to vacationers in the Catskill Mountains, Herman took his family west from New Jersey and in 1938 opened a small art supply store on Kearny Street in downtown San Francisco. Flax’s Artists’ Materials was born and soon rose to success, buoyed by the artists’ movement that grew during World War II. Herman’s other two brothers also established independent, successful art supply outlets in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the Flax art supply presence spread to Phoenix, Orlando and Atlanta. In 1955, Herman passed away at an early age, and upon returning from military service, Herman and Sylvia’s youngest son Philip took over the San Francisco business alongside his brother Jerry.

The Flax brothers grew close to their local customers, becoming well known for their generous support of struggling artists and the Bay Area arts scene. Their retail store soon drew nationwide attention for its incredible breadth of products, its helpful and knowledgeable staff, and its ability to inspire creativity through inventive presentation of merchandise.

The FLAX store also played a role in one of the greatest films of all time, its back door providing the lead-in for Kim Novak’s scene in the Podesta Baldocchi flower shop in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo (1958).

In 1981, having outgrown the downtown location, Flax moved to 1699 Market Street, right next to the historic trolley line. The warehouse behind this new retail store also afforded enough space to venture into the mail-order catalog business. In 1989, Flax’s Artists’ Materials became FLAX art & design, a different name to reflect its broader, more diverse products, and moved its distribution and customer service centers south to Brisbane. A bustling e-commerce website soon followed, earning FLAX a listing in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide of 2005. In 2007, FLAX discontinued its mail order and e-tail branches and once again focuses on direct in-store sales to its third generation of customers.

In its 75 years, FLAX has become an icon of creative inspiration and a San Francisco institution. Staffed by artists, designers, and musicians, the store is visited regularly by residents and tourists alike. From established professionals and serious students to weekend dabblers and hobbyists, FLAX art & design has tools, supplies and gifts for every artistic passion and all age levels. Described by one pleased customer as “a candy store for the creative,” FLAX art & design offers a treasure-trove of arts and crafts materials and products. www.flaxart.com

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