Paula Amt: Art and Business on the 14th Street Corridor
by Luis Gomez
Paula Amt is a true Borderstan entrepreneur: she lives in eastern Dupont and owns two businesses in western Logan Circle. Her first business was Framesmith DC, which opened in April 1999 in the carriage house at 1352 Q Street NW; the second was gallery plan b, which opened in March 2005 at 1530 14th Street NW.
The frame shop and the gallery are among a number of galleries that have come to the 14th Street corridor. Gallery plan b exhibits include photography, drawings, prints and sculpture. Amt features established artists as well as emerging local talent.
Borderstan: Why did you decide to go into business for yourself?
Amt: After having worked for a small business and commuting to Kensington, Maryland by Metro, I decided I wanted those three hours of my life back every day. I did not start these businesses because I am a “business person,” I started them because I wanted a little more independence—some might say “control”—and no commute, and to be working in the community in which I live.
Borderstan: What was it in your background—personally, professionally, education—that brought you into the art gallery world?
Amt: I have always been interested in art and particularly painting. I studied fine art and art history in college in Virginia and Paris. My dad is very artistic too, so I guess I got it from him.
Borderstan: Entrepreneurs have usually had some interesting jobs during their lives. What about you?
Amt: When I was in 3rd grade I went to work with my dad at the Freer Gallery and dusted the Peacock Room with a feather duster. Later in life I worked at a Surplus Store and learned more than I ever thought possible about Rambo knives, gas masks and Timberland boots.
Borderstan: Framesmith DC is one of the pioneer new businesses that have opened along the 14th Street corridor in the past decade. How did you end up with two businesses there?
Amt: I was born just outside DC, in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and have lived most of my adult life in DC. I ended up at 14th & Q because my friends were opening Home Rule and I wanted to be close by… because they knew what they were doing. So when I started looking for space, I got really lucky to find the little carriage house on Q Street. One thing that is great about the area is everything you need is right outside your door.
Borderstan: Here is the standard “Best thing and worst thing about owning your own business” question. So what are they?
Amt: I think the best and worst things are the same sometimes. Working your own hours generally means working all the time. Being your own boss means you are responsible for everything. Having more financial flexibility means when business is good you have some money, when it’s not good, there’s no money.
Borderstan: Several of the businesses along 14th Street that opened in the past decade have closed for various reasons with the economic recession being a factor for several. Has the recession affected you?
Amt: Oh yes. Art and the framing of it are luxury items and the first to go for most people. However, I do know that this area is much better off than many small towns in the middle of America, so I count my blessings—it could be a lot worse. At the end of last year, business picked up. But, there was another lull for us in January. Hopefully, it was just the January shock of December spending. We like to be optimistic that things will pick up for everyone soon.
Borderstan: Anything else you would like to add?
Amt: Borderstan Rocks!