Henry H Has Left the Building

Taws Artist Materials circa 1988

Photo courtesy of Kristen Nyberg


Taws – on the extreme left – looking pretty much the same in 1950

An art supply store has operated from this locale close to the corner of 16th and Walnut in what’s known as Center City Philadelphia since 1897. It has changed hands a number of times through the decades, but it’s always been known as Henry H. Taws. When I went to art school, it was one of the art supply stores we all knew about but seldom entered because they were pricier than the other stores and tended to favor their professional clientele. We would only head to Taws when everybody else was out of stock of an item, and we had no choice. If nobody else had it, surely they would. That was their reputation.

Once inside, the customer was greeted by an overstuffed shop filled to the rafters with tools and supplies that would satisfy practically every artistic discipline except photography. It was fun to look around and salivate over their offerings that the meager budgets of art students could never afford. Of course, after being accosted the third or forth time by an insistent staff member, it was time to go.
A Center City Art Supply Store circa 1991 Ultimately I went to work for that pricey art supply store in the ’80s and became one of those pushy staff members accosting the lookey-loos who strolled through the door. When I worked there, it was still pretty much an analog world where most all of the arts were still being done by hand. Computers were for arcade games but art was chisels, brushes and paint, and the place moved a lot of those things. Of course, that started to change faster and faster as the decade waned. Art and the rest of the world was going digital. I moved on and, surprisingly, so did the shop. A couple of decades after I walked out of their door, I walked past and 1527 wasn’t an art supply store any more.

Taws No Longer

It had become a highfalutin athletic store catering to well-to-do Yoga practitioners and the sort. I guess it was more in keeping with the current status of Walnut Street as a high-end retail destination rather than mom-and-pop purveyors of art supplies. The mom-and-pop outfit that ran Taws still owned the property, but the new tenants transformed the space into something that would appeal to their well-heeled client base. Long gone was the wood paneling and claustrophobically overstuffed shelves. In came the overpriced exercise togs for people who feel they have to spend a fortune in order to sweat. Out with the old – in with the new.

And then I saw this yesterday:

demolition-noticeIt’s gone. There’s a fence around it, but all that is left behind that fence is a few girders and a hole in the ground. I was walking South on 16th and looked down the alley that runs parallel to Walnut and ran behind Taws. There was nothing there! I had gone out through the back of the shop a thousand times either to get away from customers, sneak out to lunch or grab a coffee. Gone!

As I said, I have not been inside of the shop for years, but I can still picture the layout in my head. It’s weird seeing the place obliterated. It’s also weird to have heard nothing about this. If I had, it would have been fun to have a going away party with some of the other clerks who accosted customers years ago.

Oh, well.

I guess a sad little one-story building isn’t going to cut it anymore in a city that’s growing by leaps and bounds. The old building wasn’t much to look at so it will be interesting to see what will replace it.

…and as I stood near the pit that once was my place of employment I noticed the faint scent of  cologne wafting up from the ruins.
(Only people who worked there will get that. Sorry. You had to be there, but it’s just as well that you weren’t.)

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