by Elizabeth Coady
Jon and Carolyn Bjornson have successfully raised a family and created a life together now going on three decades and counting. So when they opened Bjorn & Co., their new “affordable art” store at 8140 Germantown Ave., the husband-and-wife duo just took their happy collaboration to the next level.
“We were both looking for something different to do,’’ said Jon Bjornson, a Mt. Airy native and graphic artist by trade, of the newest retail store on the avenue, “and we were looking for something to do together.’’
That desire led the twosome to experiment with a “pop-up holiday” store during the 2016 holiday season at the ‘top of the hill’ in a former camera shop.
“It was so positive,’’ said Carolyn, who gives the first impression of wearing a perpetual smile. “We met hundreds of people. And we had so much fun.’’
“It was exciting, it was fun, it was energizing,’’ Jon, 53, recalled. “And we did better than I ever expected.’’
Although the seasonal affordable art and giftware shop was open for a mere eight weeks, the warm welcome from the community and other business owners lured them into making the venture a permanent one.
“It snowballed from there,’’ said the part-time English teacher and mom to three: Maya, 21, Jon, 19 and Sonja, 16.
The couple are quick to give a shout-out to the Chestnut Hill Business Association that worked with them to find a spot.
“I can’t say enough about [retail recruiter] Kathie Meadows,’’ said Carolyn, 52. “She kept coming to us with spaces. We really felt like she was advocating for us.’’
Their criteria were wall space and location, and they settled on the storefront adjacent to Roller’s at Flying Fish. They gave it a fresh splash of paint, installed some new lighting fixtures and they were ready for business.
Inside, the walls are lined with dozens of works from artists the couple personally know and or whose works they like. Here you’ll find oils on board by Philadelphia artist Jonathan Pinkett, abstracts by Gregory Prestegord, and botanical collages by Rachel Isaac. You can also buy Jon’s own mixed media creations created with watercolor, gauche and pen and ink. On a shelf in the front is a chalkboard pig with the message, “We support local artists.’’ Prices range from $35 to $1,800 as Jon says he aims to provide “affordable art” and home wares.
“We definitely absolutely hope this makes a profit,’’ Carolyn said. They say the fun will be finding new artists and new products.
“My dad has worked so hard his entire life,’’ said Maya, who came home from college to celebrate the store opening, ‘’and now he’s finally got this place to show his works.”
She held down the store while her parents celebrated the store’s opening last Friday night at the restaurant next door with about 75 invited friends and family members.
“It was a rousing success,” Jon said after the party.
The couple’s eldest daughter attends her father’s alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, in a joint art and writing program with Brown University. She calls her own art work “strange vast practice’’ in multimedia and hopes that her creations might be displayed at the store.
“I’ll try to make stuff that’ll be worthy of the store,’’ she said.
With two kids off to college and the youngest in high school, the Bjornsons were looking for a new venture after working years in their full-time careers.
Jon is a graphics artist specializing in creating “corporate brand identities.” Carolyn is an English teacher who left Aim Academy after nine years to teach three days a week at Liguori Academy to do her part to balance the “injustices in our education system.’’
“We decided to give it two years,’’ Jon says of the new store. “We like the location and we took a leap of faith.’’
Said Carolyn: “We have been so welcomed.’’