Art on Main
Friends co-found Main Street West during pandemic
Photos by Rachel Howard
Nearly a year has passed since friends Cynthia Kovach and Laura Ritch embarked together on a life-changing journey that brought their business to downtown Hartselle. The pair, who have been close friends for years, and whose adult children have dated for a decade, founded Main Street West.
“We are both retired by several years and just didn’t like it,” Ritch said. “We wanted to keep on having a good time.”
November will mark a year of the art gallery being open at 123 Main St. The journey to opening the doors was one fraught with challenges.
“I was not expecting anybody to say that for one thing you take down to repair, you’ll find 15 things behind it, but that’s exactly what happened,” Ritch said. She said the contractor the pair hired to renovate the space was an excellent choice for the job.
The building, which once housed both a grocery store and furniture store, was completely empty and had been vacant for decades. Among the projects the gallery owners completed was reopening the skylight, which now shows the gallery logo in addition to the second story balcony.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down in March 2020, but Ritch said there was no turning back at that point. “We just had to keep on going,” she said. “I had a construction loan, and materials were triple the price. When we could get something, it was like taking a course in construction.”
“We had both had our own businesses before, but that was a long time ago. We’re still learning every day,” Kovach added. “I guess that’s what keeps your mind young.”
Main Street West is filled with art curated by both Ritch and Kovach. They fill their space with art they personally love and want to share with others.
“To me, whether it is a lamp that could make or break a room or a framed piece of realistic art, it should have an emotional impact on your life in some way,” Ritch said. “It should make you happy or bring back memories. We want to make people happy. We want people to dig things out of their attics and have them framed so that when they see it, they feel something. I want them to feel good.”
Another goal, Kovach added, is to give local artisans a platform to share their talent with the community. “We want the gallery to show off people’s talent – and here, different types of art of meet different types of talent,” she said.
Several artists from Hartselle and Morgan County display and sell their work at the gallery.
T.C. Garrett creates his artwork on repurposed wood with pencil and is totally self-taught. Kim Shelton, who paints under the name Mik, specializes in hyperrealism that is difficult to distinguish from a photograph. Michael Banks, a street artist from Guntersville, was almost completely sold out of his unique pieces when Kovach and Ritch met him for the first time.
Ritch said everything sold at Main Street West has a story, and that is done purposefully.
“Even our candles have a unique story,” she said. “We have a connection to the art here, and it’s almost like finding treasure. I would hate to find something I thought was so unique and fabulous, something I thought was just for me and had my name on it, and then find the same thing at my neighbor’s house.”
It’s because of that the pair have decided to not restock the art they sell.
“Once we sell something that is completely unique, we are not going to restock,” Ritch said. “We don’t buy 12 of anything we sell. If someone buys something here, they will not see it in their neighbor’s house, unless their neighbor finds it from somebody else.
“I can go into any mall in any city and guarantee you there’s going to be a Chico’s, there’s going to be an Anthropologie – and I can tell you what’s going to be in those stores too, basically. So why go? Once you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.
“The difference, I think, is what is attractive about small town, mom-and-pop businesses.”
The pair said they truly form a connection with the art they find to share with the world, and sometimes it’s hard to part with something they are particularly fond of.
“It’s like selling a puppy,” Ritch said with a laugh. “I’ll only let some of it go to a good home.”
“We got in these beautiful candlesticks. They were made by an artist out of New Orleans, and we loved them. I told Cynthia I wouldn’t sell them to just anybody,” Ritch said. Fortuitously, the right buyer came along. “Monty Vest walked in, and we agreed if she liked them, she could have them.”
“We’ve met so many interesting people and like to think we’ve made friends with everyone we’ve worked with,” Ritch said. “That’s the neat thing about being in Hartselle: We’re making friends, not just customers.”
Kovach and Ritch have a little help running the gallery. The honorary store manager is a 20-year-old poodle named Sweetie, who Ritch says is spoiled rotten.
The friends said they have no regrets about opening a business together; they are having the time of their lives and learning new things every day.
“We work together really well; we have different talents,” Ritch said. “And we’ve learned not to drink wine when we go to the market, or we will come home with something that will never sell.”
Main Street West is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit the gallery online at www.mainstreetwestgallery.com or email the owners at email@example.com.