Jessica Ramey (left), the new owner of the Art Department, with Katy and Jim Vigeland who sold the business to her. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

After spending decades working jobs to pay the bills, Jessica Ramey has found her happy ending.

On Sept. 30, Katy and Jim Vigeland handed her the keys to the Art Department, located at 254 Commercial St N.E., a hub for Salem’s artistic community that the couple has operated for over a quarter century.

“It’s exhilarating,” said Ramey, 42, who doubted the feasibility of owning the store.

Over the years the couple has owned the store, Jim Vigeland said they’ve enjoyed watching downtown Salem become increasingly vibrant while their business and customers have grown. 

“It's just been fun to have customers at the start,” he said. “And a lot of them have been our customers for 25 years and see them grow up.”

Katy Vigeland added that they’ve developed relationships with those customers. She said they’re “ecstatic” that one of those customers will now take over the Art Department and will put her own mark on it.

Since moving to Salem in 2005 with her family, the Art Department has been Ramey’s favorite store. With its aisles full of tubes of paint, brushes, calligraphy pens and stacks of paper, Ramey described going into the store as “utopic” with possibilities.

“I like to see all the stuff that you can make something with,” she said. “I don't think there's anything more powerful than making and creating.”

But it wasn’t just the art supplies that kept Ramey coming back. She also found a community of creative types willing to share technical knowledge of how to use those supplies.

Over the years, she took up gouache painting, a technique using a non-transparent watercolor. After having never attempted the medium, she learned and eventually taught a class on it. Ramey also became friends with Katy Vigeland while the two were in local art groups.

Previously, Ramey, who holds a fine arts degree, was doing marketing and communications for Marion County’s waste-reduction program. While pursuing artistic pursuits on the side, she was always looking for creative ways to encourage people to reduce waste at her job, such as organizing a fashion show using trash and competitions to upcycle materials.

Katy Vigeland said she approached over the summer Ramey about buying the business when she and her husband were thinking about retirement. Ramey liked the idea but didn’t think it was possible for her to take over financially.

Although the pandemic made business harder, Katy Vigeland said that they were lucky. With help from a local bank, they got a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan that kept their two employees around. 

She said that during harder times people turn to art as a form of therapy. With people stranded at home during the shut-down orders, people still came into the Art Department and they even saw some new customers.

While the pandemic caused the store’s revenue to plummet, Katy Vigeland said that it has mostly recovered since then. With business recovering, she was able to strike a deal that Ramey said will work for her.

“It just felt like everything in my life kind of came together at that moment,” said Ramey.

While the Vigelands hope to spend more time traveling and at their cabin on the Metolius River, they expect to remain in the background offering support to Ramey and occasionally dropping in with a box of donuts.

Katy Vigeland said that when she and her husband bought the store in 1994, it was called “Creative Cache” and was on the verge of liquidating. After taking over, she immediately changed the name and began ramping up its class offerings and involvement in the art community, she said.

Classes have been suspended because of the pandemic. Ramey said that she’s hoping to move classes online and to also boost the store’s internet sales. But Ramey said that she’ll keep the physical store because there’s no substitute for customers who want to come in and feel the bristles of a brush, try out a pen or ask the staff for advice.

While retired, Katy Vigeland said she’ll be focusing on her own art and might even teach a class again.

“Having this store is like a baby,” she said. “It has a lot of needs and takes a lot of attention, right?”

But with it in the right hands, she’s able to let that go.

 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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