Business has been skyrocketing at Carol Schwartz Gallery.
That’s probably because people are realizing they won’t be able to buy art there anymore after it closes Dec. 31.
Art enthusiasts and patrons have been stopping by the three-story gallery to buy their last oil paintings or vintage French posters from an equally enthusiastic Elliot Schwartz, whose wife, Carol, opened the space in 1990. He’s continued running the business since her passing in 2012.
It began after the couple took part in a mission trip in 1979 to Israel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and learned about what they could do to help the Jewish state’s economy. While there, they became friendly with an artist, Arona Reiner, who was planning to come to the United States for an art show. Carol Schwartz suggested Reiner come to Philadelphia, where she would give her a show at their country club.
“The art show was so successful, they talked about, ‘Well, maybe we can do something together with Israel,’” Elliot Schwartz recalled, “and this would kind of be what they spoke to us about doing in terms of business with Israelis.”
As they had also discussed the importance of women being able to make their own financial contributions separate from their husbands, Carol Schwartz was inspired to start a business that would help Israelis and make her own mark.
After another trip to Israel shortly after, they acquired more art and sold it from their home in Flourtown, where Carol Schwartz also ran an antiques business. People heard about what she was doing — she only sold art by Israeli artists living in Israel — and synagogues began approaching her about art auctions.
The business grew to the point where Carol Schwartz decided she wanted to open a gallery of Israeli art and move the business out of their home. The Carol Schwartz Gallery opened on the first floor of the space in 1990.
“She never knew it was going to grow into what it grew into, she started totally on her own,” her husband marveled. “It was such a wonderful thing. And meeting all these Israeli artists and going back and forth to Israel” — he’s been 11 times — “it was wonderful.”
When they found the location for the gallery — a building they bought and whose upstairs apartment units they rented out — they noticed a framing shop across the street was closing. Elliot Schwartz suggested the framer join with them and they housed the framing business in the gallery.
“It was a natural tie-in,” Elliot Schwartz noted. The walls of the gallery’s bottom floor are decorated with all types of materials and colors of frames for the art heading to new homes.
As the business grew, they diversified and expanded the collection beyond just Israeli artists. Business became so successful that Carol Schwartz opened a second gallery on Germantown Avenue in 1995, the year Elliot Schwartz joined his wife full time after a career as a dress manufacturer.
“Everything evolved over the years,” said Elliot Schwartz. “We got into photography, we got into French posters, we got into so many different categories just by accident starting as an Israeli art gallery — it was really crazy.”
Around 2000, they closed the second gallery. Tenants moved out of the apartment, so they used all three floors to house their expanding collection, the husband recalled while sitting at a long wooden table in what was once the kitchen and is now decorated with vivid photographs and paintings.
Notable pieces on these walls include Jordan Matter’s stunning photographs of dancers posing in front of signature spaces as the LOVE statue, which resulted from the gallery’s 2014 partnership with the Pennsylvania Ballet.
All the while, the main goal of the gallery was to give back.
When the new Jewish Family and Children’s Service facility opened in Bala Cynwyd, Elliot Schwartz saw an opportunity to further that mission.
“I called them up and said I wanted to donate art, so we came up with a Carol Schwartz wall, that we’d have a permanent area with Carol’s name on it,” he said. “This is the reason she started her business, to give back.”
Another part of the mission of the gallery — especially in its early days — was to inspire others to visit Israel.
“I always felt a part of our thing was to get people to go,” he said, “because once they go, they understand. You don’t go, you don’t really understand.”
He’s even organized mission trips on his own, including the Carol Schwartz Love Mission Trip the year after his wife died. He’s already planning his 12th trip to the Jewish state.
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to retirement — even though many in the community are sad to see him, and the gallery, go.
“I’m retiring just because I want to retire and do things,” said Schwartz, who at 75 is looking forward to spending time with his seven grandchildren. “I still have my health, I want to travel and I don’t want the pressure anymore. It’s a good thing.
“And so many people are coming in. The reputation the gallery has built is unbelievable. People are sending me things, like cards and letters, like, ‘I’m gonna miss you’ and ‘I’m so sad’ — I said, ‘I’m happy,’” he laughed.
He started a sale and has enjoyed seeing all the people coming into the gallery; many who have come in over the years have become good friends.
What will happen if all of the art isn’t sold?
“That’s a very good question. I don’t have the answer to that,” he said. “It’s kind of the unknown right now.”
For Sally Alsher, who’s been the manager for 15 years, working with the couple has been a learning experience.
“He’s a great boss, and everything he’s done has just been such a tribute to Carol. She was just the most amazing woman I think I’ve ever met in every way,” she said. “We’ve had a really good run for all these years, but it’s really been Elliot that’s kept her memory alive by doing this and keeping the gallery open and doing the best he can, and he’s a great boss. He’s just a great person.”
“What do I owe you for that?” Elliot Schwartz joked.
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