“I dream in picture frames,” said Kathy Holcomb, owner of Absolute Gallery, while sitting in front of the frame-covered corner of her store in Old Town.
When she was a student in Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University, though, her dreams were very different.
“I wanted to go to veterinary school,” she said. “My grandfather was a professor of veterinary medicine, so it was in my blood.”
But when she was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety disorder, she struggled and began considering other paths.
“I needed some custom picture framing done, and I said, ’I can do that,’” she said. “So I did it professionally at a gallery in Okemos, and I decided this is really what I want to do with my life. When an opportunity came up nine years ago in Old Town, (my family and I) jumped at it.”
It seems to fit her perfectly. “When you work retail in a small area,” she said, “all you see is the good in people, and it just reassures your faith in people.”
Today, Holcomb has about 8,000 framing choices at her disposal.
“That’s my love,” she said. “Every piece of art has a perfect frame out there, and I like to be able to try to match that frame to that piece of artwork.”
Custom framing is about 50 percent of her business, which also includes original art, jewelry and classes. As part of the heart of Old Town’s art district, she also strives to improve the overall culture of the area.
“We try to figure out how to get more people down here from a retail perspective and to support the arts,” she said. “I’ve been working on what we need to do to make First Sunday (Gallery Walk) a more effective event. We have the same people every month, but we want to get new people out appreciating art. I’m trying to figure out what we have to do to change the dynamic in Lansing.”
Every Saturday in December, at least one artist will be at Absolute Gallery to chat with the customers. Last month, Holcomb hosted the third annual Art of Gift Giving event, complete with decorations, food and one-on-one interactions with customers. She prides herself on being able to guide a holiday shopper in the right direction when looking for art.
“You start asking them questions. What do they know about the people? What is the house like? Where do they live? Are there any colors the people like? And you can start narrowing it down, and you can get a good idea of what somebody might like that way,” she said.
She’s also exploring other interests. Earlier this year she held Old Town’s first ghost tour, which attracted about 60 people.
“When I came into this business, I didn’t believe in ghosts. But I know how gravity works,” she said, recalling the day she saw a picture move sideways across her store’s wall instead of falling straight down. She also had price tags mysteriously go missing from her inventory. She says two ghosts live in Absolute Gallery: a man named George and a small child, who were both involved in a train accident, Holcomb said.
When she decided to open the gallery, she got two tips for coming up with the name.
“I was told to never name it after myself, and to name it so I’d be first in the phone book. So I wanted something that was positive and first in the phone book. I didn’t want Aardvark, and Absolute came to me — and I just really liked the way it flowed.”
Phone books may be on their way out, but Holcomb’s business isn’t going anywhere.
“We’re in it for the long run,” she said. “My nieces know that they’re going to inherit the store, and we’re going to be here. I want them to be able to look back and say, ’I remember when.’”
307 E Grand River Ave., Lansing