After helping reshape Philly neighborhoods and culture, revered art gallery to close

 After 52 years, Philadelphia gallery owners Rick and Ruth Snyderman are closing. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

After 52 years, Philadelphia gallery owners Rick and Ruth Snyderman are closing. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

One of Philadelphia’s landmark art galleries will soon be closing after 52 years.

The Snyderman-Works gallery had once driven the revitalization of South Street in the 1980s; in the 1990s, it did the same in the Old City neighborhood.

Now the owners are retiring … sort of.

Rick and Ruth Snyderman bought an old factory building in 1992, when real estate in the Old City neighborhood was a bit rough and could be had for a song. They opened a gallery at street level, built a spacious apartment upstairs, and went about helping to transform Old City into a desirable neighborhood.

After 25 years, a buyer made an offer on the building too good to refuse.

“It seemed to me that this was an opportunity we should take advantage of because it gives us a chance to go off on a completely new adventure,” Snyderman said. “Ruth and I never worried about jumping off the edge of things. We’ve done it all our lives — and don’t find it threatening or frightening.”

For more than a half-century, Snyderman-Works gallery has been closely associated with the American Craft movement, focused on textiles, jewelry, and sculpture. When it was on South Street, the gallery partnered with other galleries and restaurants on the corridor to make it a destination street. When the gallery relocated to Old City, they spearheaded the first-Friday art crawl.

But Ruth Snyderman said younger people aren’t as interested in American Craft.

“People love looking around, they bring their friends. They come in thinking they’re going to buy something, but they don’t,” she said.

“The days of retail are long over,” said Rick. “Most of the activity that takes place in the gallery world doesn’t take place in galleries, but in art fairs.”

The art marketplace is dominated by international fairs, such as Art Basel, where hundreds of galleries solicit thousands of visitors and billions of dollars can change hands in a few days. Ruth is turning 80 years old, and Rick 81. At their age, they can’t hustle fairs like they used to.

Once he gives up the gallery, Rick said he can leverage his half-century of art experience as a consultant.

“A gallery is about relationships. We’re not giving up relationships,” said Rick. “We’ll still be dealing with a lot of artists. We expect to be dealing with clients we know and developing new ones. I think it’s going to be an opportunity to use our knowledge much more freely.”

“Running a small business in American today — whether it’s a gallery or a grocery store or whatever — is a real challenge. You have all these mundane day-to-day responsibilities that are absolutely essential to running a business. We can now walk away from all that stuff,” he said.

The Snyderman-Works gallery will be open as usual through July, then closing for good in August. Rick and Ruth are not going far; they bought a condo two blocks away.

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