Opening an art gallery and event space had been a years-long dream for Menlo Park's Jill Layman. As a single mom with little experience running a business of her own, though, she doubted whether it was possible.
But in late October, her dream came to life with the grand opening of A.Space, located at 773 Santa Cruz Ave., nestled between Penzey's Spices and The Pet Place.
Jill Layman. (Photo by Nancy Mueller Photography.)
"I think, in general, for me and my peers, we're all sick and tired of driving to San Francisco for events. Traffic is so bad," Ms. Layman says. She's betting on people wanting to stay on the Peninsula for their events and has made the space available for rent for corporate and nonprofit events and parties, large and small.
The mother of three children, now 19, 16 and 14, she left a career in marketing and public relations to take care of her kids full time. Though she spent about a decade as co-owner of the Skipstone wine label of Sonoma County with her former husband, she had an extended gap in her time in the workforce, and had never launched a business solo.
To bolster her career skills, she participated in Reboot, a local program that helps people – mainly mothers – who have been out of the workforce for a few years to refresh their workplace skills. There, she learned how to more effectively network and use social media and programs like Excel.
When she learned about the space opening from the former lessor in July 2017, she seized the opportunity and began to prepare for the gig by ordering a stack of books on how to run a gallery from Amazon.
Launching an art gallery has lower startup costs than other businesses, like a restaurant, because the main inventory – the art – is generally on consignment from artists. Typically, if a piece sells, the artist and the gallery split the profits 50-50, though conditions vary.
She says she's also got support from her kids behind the scenes, who help run errands and manage social media.
Keeping the lights on at the gallery requires some savvy in choosing pieces that are likely to sell, she says. But she says she's got a natural eye for what looks good as a decorator herself, and she has come to know the community well as a writer for Gentry Magazine and a 17-year resident of the area. For instance, she says, her gallery features the equine sculptures of Santa Fe artist Siri Hollander to appeal to the horse lovers of Woodside and Portola Valley.
Her goal is to have "something for everybody's taste and everybody's budget," with price ranges on average between $5,000 and $8,000. (So, maybe not everybody, she acknowledges.)
A.Space is at least the fourth art gallery on Santa Cruz Avenue, but rather than see the others as competitors, Ms. Layman says her relationship to the other galleries is synergistic – she's gotten framing done at Peabody Fine Art Gallery and is in talks about joint exhibitions with Art Ventures Gallery.
Menlo Park is "very welcoming to art," she says, adding that she hopes the city continues to add restaurants and businesses that are more creative and experiential.
In the gallery's first two months or so, she says, there has been no shortage of artists seeking display space at the gallery. "Everyone loves the idea of the Silicon Valley market," she says, noting that the area has a reputation for having a population that's well-educated, affluent and enthusiastic about art.
The work she's chosen to feature so far is primarily abstract art, interpretational landscapes, and a little bit of realism. Her gallery currently features works by 12 artists generally from the western U.S. and California, including Jane Rosen from San Gregorio, Ann Hollingsworth from La Honda, and Dinah Cross, who lived in Portola Valley for 20 years.
Ultimately, Ms. Layman says, opening her own art gallery has restored her faith in her own competence and capabilities, which took a hit following divorce and years spent outside of the traditional workforce.
"You wonder if you can do it again," she says. "The answer is: You can."
A.Space is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. 773 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park, CA 94025. (650) 731-7730. adotspace.com.