Has it Really Been Twenty-Five Years?


To the Editor:

I just recently looked back into my notebook/journal from 1994-95, which brought back a flood of memories, ideas, dreams, and hopes. At the time I was living in the historic district of Salem, commuting each day to run an art and framing store in Newburyport. 1995 was gonna be a big year, with my [first] wedding planned for mid-March. My Mother had passed away the previous summer after a prolonged battle with cancer, and looking forward to a bright new chapter of life was certainly something I needed. And it was good for my family.

But like all good plans…

Come the ‘slow season’ of February that year, my boss in Newburyport decided to replace me with two less costly, current employees that he assumed could just mimic my efforts and run things. He’d end up closing that store within 6 months, but his strategic move left me about to be married, without a job.

GREAT timing.

So now I was given the ‘freedom’ to choose my next path, and I decided I was ready to open a frame shop of my own… but I had no idea just where that would be. Well, not NO idea… while expanding the wholesale operations for my previous employer, I mapped out every frame shop from Connecticut to Maine to determine where we could deliver framing supplies to shops throughout the region. Using a literal pallet of Yellow Page books (remember those?), tearing out the appropriate pages, I figured out where each and every framing shop in New England was, and where they weren’t. I gained from that position, the basis for setting out to choose a place for shop-to-be. The search took me to a section of Brookline, into Swampscott, out to Newton and on to Marblehead. While each place seemed like a decent option, none really felt right, or offered up the right location. My living room started to fill with boxes of frame and mat samples and equipment…

In a moment of frustration one Sunday in May, I decided to take a drive out to Cape Ann for a bit of salt air, and hopefully, some clarity. Following route 127 from Beverly, along the winding coastal route, I made my way into Manchester, where I’d never before been. Immediately, I was hooked.

Maybe it was fate, or maybe a bit of divine guidance from my guardian angel (Wanda Hayback, my Mom), but that drive which wasn’t a search for a place as much as it was for inspiration, became both. Pulling in to the plaza where Dunkin Donuts was [that I’d later find out was Harbor’s Point], I saw two empty retail units in the plaza. The larger was the darkened, former home of Ben Sprague’s and the other was the abandoned sandwich shop, La Groceria, which happened to have a prominent FOR RENT sign right there in the door.

As if the tale didn’t already seem like a marionette act played out by the gods themselves, the plaza’s property manager Roy happened to be strolling past to the [newly opened] Allen’s Pharmacy. He asked if I was interested in taking a look inside. He even had the keys on him!

It was small. But it was cool. Shelves that once held potato chips and snacks for passing beach visitors could hold photo frames, glass cleaner, easels and more. Big, long walls once blocked by soda coolers could be covered in fabric to hold a huge selection of frame corners. There was a decent sized, tile floor ‘showroom’ with the potential for a compact but effective place to do framing in the back. Big windows would allow for lots of natural light and visibility into the space, so people could see the beautiful things we would be creating. It all materialized in my head with such clarity in that moment.

After some negotiation, realtor [and soon to be friend] Paul Brown, helped bridge the differences between the owner and I. Without Paul, this would have been a non-starter. Getting into the space, it was clear that a major cleaning was in order. Old food counters came out. A coat of paint went on everything. My father came to visit and help a week, and we spent long days, literally getting down on hands and knees, scrubbing and scraping the tiles and grout, loosening grease and rust stains with chemicals and hard work. Afterwards, we would head over to Al’s for cold beer and good, long chats about the future [his as well as mine], this new business, and about what my Mom’s passing meant for us both.

“She’d be so proud of you for this. Of course, she always was… but this is a big moment, and I can’t help feel that she’s looking down with love and pride.” My Dad had his moments, and offering up those words of encouragement when I really needed them was definitely one.

Through the years, I’ve had the most incredible people work for me. Teri, one of those who “took my place” in the shop in Newburyport was no better treated than I was up there, and eventually she came to work with me in my shop. My ex-wife helped a bit, but her resistance to learning how to measure to the 1/16” limited her usefulness. Not to worry… her niece Chantel was handy and helpful, and grateful to put in a few hours in exchange for staying in our guest room for a while. My childhood friends from CT, Josh and Kalter, came up regularly always offering a strong back for moving and changing things as I needed to adapt the space for more business. Tad Sanchez, a dear friend who is sadly no longer with us, helped me hang the signs out front, twice as I changed them. The dear, sweet Carole Faller came in one day a week for a few years to tidy up, keep me organized and fill the place with Motherly-energy. Designers… Artists… Photographers… and of course, my amazing current staff of Nancy, Pamela, Jane and Martha. All made this venture, and adventure, possible.

Then, there’s you, the clients. Wow. What can one say?

Through thick and thin, during the hardest of times, and the best, your support, faith and trust, have kept this thing worth doing. The amazing artwork [who knew I would manage to frame THREE Sargent drawings in an old sandwich shop?!?], or just the happy smiles and loving “drop-ins”. During the most challenging days (my divorce, the passing of my grandparents and then my Father, 9/11, old loves ending, recessions, and on…) I’d throw myself into my work, creating from sun up to sundown and well beyond. And everything we made found a home with one of you. Photo frames from reclaimed woods… seashells collected and made into special reminders of the beauty of nature… collaborations with artists and photographers to offer incredible artworks accompanied by MY art; the perfect, often hand-crafted frame… shadowboxed items, from corkscrews to baseballs to a deflated Patriots football in a tongue- in-cheek nod to the silliness that was Deflategate. You have brought us your treasured items, family heirlooms, photos of long departed relatives, wedding invitations, memorabilia, your children’s art, items in need of restoration, items salvaged from house fires, collected posters, your own watercolor paintings, needlepoints, or oils… or the art of masters that might have once hung in museums. Etchings, aquatints, lithographs, and SO MUCH MORE.

You have always blown us away with what you bring us.

To say we are honored by your patronage, only scratches the surface.

Never satisfied to just create a top-notch framing workshop filled with a staff of artist- artisans… one to rival the best of Boston or NYC, but conveniently nestled here in this quintessential, quiet, coastal town… I often set my sites on improving our little piece of the world with things like the Art Shows at the Manchester Community Center, the Manchester Arts Festival, Painting-by-the-Sea, and then Cape Ann Plein Air. All these things took lots of time away from the work at the shop, but somehow, I managed to (with lots of help from the supportive staff) do it all. Events made me incredibly proud… especially the Manchester Arts Festival, which took place during the Summers of 2008- 2011 and which wouldn’t have been possible without the sincere belief and hard work of my dear friends Joan van Roden, Kathy

Connolly, Margie Florini and Barby Almy of Beach Street Studios, plus an incredible group of volunteers [who know who they are]! That event drew up the blueprint for how future events would be done throughout our town, winding all the way from Seaside No.1 to Masconomo Park; truly a celebration that included the whole of downtown!

Then there was Cape Ann Plein Air (aka CAPA) which brought the very BEST painters from around the world to Cape Ann, to paint what we already recognize as one of the most beautiful places for any painter to work, anywhere. And when I asked (ok, nagged) many of you in Manchester, you stepped up by welcoming, housing & showing support to the event and the the artists who came to paint. My theory that Cape Ann was the “Birthplace of American Plein Air Painting” was based, after all, on a Winslow Homer sketch of Singing Beach and Eaglehead… so how could we all NOT get behind CAPA?

It’s been a heck of a ride. 

But, as the saying goes… all things come to an end. So after the unprecedentedly difficult time that has been COVID-19, I’ve made the very tough decision that my time as “the frame guy” in Manchester must also end. There are many factors that go into the decision but primarily, I need and want to be with my wife and son in Maryland. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that time is a precious and fragile thing. And it can also be cut short without much notice. So while the shop holds a dear place in my heart as the greatest thing I have created, it shouldn’t keep me from being with the ones that I love.

Or from another challenge and adventure, elsewhere.

Please stay tuned. I am diligently trying to find someone who will take my place as your trusted art handler here in this same space, in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

Someone who will care about you and your work as much as I have for the past twenty-five years.

Yes. Twenty-five years.

CF Hayback

Nor'east Frameworks


manchester, cape ann, new england, allen’s pharmacy, dunkin donuts, tad sanchez, boston, manchester community center, paul brown, ben sprague’s, joan van roden, kathy connolly, margie florini, wanda hayback, carole faller, barby almy, newburyport