Photographer buys frame shop
Since the early 1980s, Denise Johnson has established, grown and maintained High Point Framing & Art Gallery in New Richmond. This spring, she will retire and hand the business over to Nate Peterson of NP Design & Photography.
After more than 30 years in business and more than 20 at its current location, Johnson plans to step down on March 1 as the frame shop ownership transitions to Peterson. The shop will move into a newly renovated space just beneath the NP Design & Photography studio at 145 W. Second St.
“It’s a perfect fit for our business,” Peterson said. “We will be able to offer our current photography clients more options and better customer service when it comes to framing their artwork. We consider ourselves lucky to purchase a sound business that Denise has grown from the start and has been a pillar in our business community for 30 years. We will truly be learning from the best.”
Johnson is just as happy to help Peterson become the trustee of her legacy.
“High Point is such a perfect fit for Nate and (his wife) Teresa,” Johnson said. “I can retire with confidence that the business I have spent 30 years nurturing is in good hands and will continue to offer the same high standards and quality High Point Framing customers have come to expect and appreciate.”
Getting her start
In 1982, Johnson was a nursing assistant at the St. Croix Health Center when her brother-in-law Rick Kelley, a professional wildlife artist, encouraged her to go into the framing industry.
“He thought I’d be very good at it,” Johnson said.
Johnson got her start when she moved her three boys out of an upstairs bedroom and into a lower-level bedroom to make room for a framing workshop.
“I just took to it immediately,” Johnson said. “I did that for about four years.
By 1984, she was so successful in selling at Kelley’s shows that she decided to attend a custom framers’ training program in Atlanta.
“It was a state-of-the-art comprehensive course for professional picture framers,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “Just because I was selling so much, I wanted to make sure I was doing it right, with all the conservation framing and the preservation of framing and limited edition art.”
When she returned from her training, her sister Gisele Kelley and her husband Rick lived in the High Point townhouses in Hudson, which promoted Gisele to launch High Point publishing to reproduce all of Rick’s limited edition art to the retail market.
“She started publishing his work, and they would hand it off to me, and I would frame it for their shows,” Johnson said.
That’s how her fledgling framing venture got its name. By 1991, Johnson outgrew her home and rented space in a downtown location in what was then called Brenda’s Florals and More. A short time later, in 1992, Johnson moved into her current location in the Indianhead Glass building at 124 E. First St. High Point Framing has been there ever since.
Johnson’s long career has been filled with varied creative challenges and highlights, which she must now pack into her mind as memories.
“My favorite part of the job has been being able to explore all the possibilities of framing,” Johnson said. “It’s just as endless as your imagination.”
Johnson said the most interesting thing she has ever framed was a pitchfork.
She said she’s done all sorts of work from collectibles, shadowboxes and memorabilia to items needed on short notice for funerals.
“You really have to be on your toes as far as being there as a compassionate human being during these things,” Johnson said. “I’m going to miss the creativity and the people. I could go in there every single day and just live my passion.”
In retirement, Johnson is looking forward to volunteering in the community.
“God has blessed me beyond measure all of these years in that store,” Johnson said. “ I opened up every single day just thanking God for this tiny little space, and I always operated that shop on Christian principle.”
After enduring surgeries on both hands, Johnson has worn away most of the cartilage in her hands.
“To me, that’s God saying, ‘It’s time for you to slow down,’” Johnson said. “Now it’s time for me to give back. I plan on going out into the community and giving back and making a difference.”
Johnson hopes to focus her volunteer efforts on the food shelf, the hospital and hospice.
High Point will live on
Peterson saw an ad Johnson had placed with the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce, and it didn’t take long for the two of them to sit down and hammer out an agreement.
“It was pretty informal. Just a handshake and an earnest check, and we’re all good,” Peterson said.
“When you know, you know,” Johnson added. “It was just a no-brainer.”
Business will go on as usual for High Point Framing at its current location on East First Street until Johnson steps down on March 1. At that point, the shop will close for a short transition period while the shop is moved into its new space in the lower level of the NP Design & Photography building on West Second Street. The trophy portion of the business will be spun off and operated by Johnson’s son Chuck Olson as Top Notch Trophies.
Peterson’s shop has been outsourcing framing for the three years it has been in downtown New Richmond.
“We’re about 30 percent to where Denise is,” Peterson said. “We’re going to take some mentoring from her, and also, we’re hiring Sally Varner.”
Varner is a longtime High Point Framing employee who has been in the framing industry for about 25 years, according to Johnson.
Peterson also plans to inject some modernization into the business side of things by providing High Point Framing with computerized invoices, a website, a social media presence and more.
“The fact that it has been running on pure word of mouth and reputation is just awesome,” Peterson said. “I want to continue that tradition, and enhance it.”
Part of the enhancement Peterson is offering is a newly renovated space, which will take up about one-third of the lower level of his studio.
Construction will include a new split-level entrance with stairs going down toward the frame shop and up toward the photo studio.
“We’ve got about three feet more each way than Denise’s current location, so it should spread out just a little more,” Peterson said. “We’re investing quite a bit into the building project itself, so it should have a nice, polished face to it.”
Renovation work began last weekend, and Peterson hoped it would be completed by late February or mid-March.