Despite competing with online merchants many multiples the size of her brick and mortar art supply store in Moab, Cindy Sue Hunter said that she has seen growth in revenues each year since opening in 2016.
Hunter put out a survey after moving back to Moab to care for her mom, asking locals what kind of business they wanted to see started in Grand County. Nine out of 10 respondents wanted an art supply store, Hunter said, so she started Imagination Station, located in the same Main Street shopping center as Village Market and The Moab Brewery.
“I took a huge risk,” Hunter said of spinning up the business.
But the risk paid off, at least until the pandemic started. Now, Hunter is looking to sell off $75,000 in inventory — assets into which she has put her entire life savings, she said — and pivot to producing high-quality, locally-sourced graphic T-shirts and apparel, something she can do without paying rent on a storefront location.
Hunter financed the purchase of the machine that will do the color printing, and she hopes to keep up with the payments by printing shirts and other items for local retailers, event organizers and whoever else will buy batches of garments with color graphics.
Regardless of what is next for her, she is sad to be losing her store.
“This was my life,” Hunter said, holding back tears as she stood behind a table set up in her shop’s entryway. “The whole thing just sucks.”
Hunter has recently staffed the store alone. She went five weeks with zero revenue due to closure over COVID-19 and, prior to that, saw four increases to her rent over the course of 18 months, with another increase expected soon.
Hunter lives with Hashimoto’s disease and chronic back pain, leaving her with complications that cause her to get fatigued from physical labor faster than most. Her body’s ability to process toxins is also lacking, making many medical treatments dangerous for her. She worries especially about catching COVID-19.
But, she’s not interested in “throwing a pity party” for herself. She just wants to find a path forward.
Imagination Station’s storefront is currently open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Customers can come to the shop to see what is on display at the front door, but Hunter is asking patrons not to touch anything unless they’re going to buy it, or they have on fresh gloves. Everything is 10-50% off.
“I have been inundated with requests and I am afraid I will be busier going out of business then I ever was while open,” Hunter said of business since she announced the coming closure.
Hunter said she was not successful in obtaining any of the subsidized loans or grants that have been made available to small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic. She also tried to form partnerships with local businesses to keep her now-struggling business afloat, but with many local businesses also struggling, none of those attempts panned out.
As for how she will sell off her inventory without her storefront operating as normal, Hunter said she is looking for storage space where she can keep the items as she transitions away from having a physical location on which to pay rent. Much of her inventory is now viewable online, courtesy of a friend who offered help setting up the site.
“You can go to either of these sites to see over 8,000 items,” Hunter said on her store’s Facebook page. “Note: inventory may not up to date, so please be kind. I’m doing the best I can.”