A surprise at Swain’s, one of Morristown’s longest-running businesses

After 55 years in Morristown, Swain's is closing its doors...and moving next door. Photo by Marion Filler
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By Marion Filler

A big yellow sign in the window of Swain’s of Morristown, announcing the “Store Closing Sale” and 50 percent off its frames and artworks, marked this week’s impending departure of one of the oldest businesses on South Street, a presence in Morristown since 1964.

Well, not so fast.

HOWDY, POD’NER: Ira L. Black, left, of the 70 South Gallery, welcomes Dave Vokes of Swain’s. They plan a merger. Photo by Marion Filler

Just before the moving van was scheduled to arrive on Monday afternoon, a last-minute arrangement between the 70 South Gallery and Swain’s was pieced together by Dave Vokes, one of the owners at Swain’s, and Ira L. Black, director of the gallery next door.

“We look forward to announcing that we are integrating our businesses together,” said Black. “It just makes sense.”

The idea of restoration and framing in one location will create a “one-stop shop,” he added, acknowledging that Swain’s reputation in the community for outstanding quality of frames is a win-win for both.

Significant loose ends remain, but “I’m optimistic,” said Vokes, who plans to be available at 70 South on a full-time basis once the transition is complete.

A new name for the enterprise has not been chosen, and legalities are still to be considered, and the big question of a lease for the 70 South remains unresolved. Is there one?

“We are working on it,” said Black, who would not confirm or deny its existence. “But this is not meant to be a short-term solution. We are operating right now under the idea that we are going to be here for a very long time.”

Black has been searching for business partners since patron Ted Baldanzi, who started the photo gallery as a labor of love in 2014, decided to move on. The gallery managed to avert closure in February–Black has kept details close to the vest.

Dave Vokes of Swain’s of Morristown. Photo by Marion Filler.

Meanwhile, Swain’s is being dismantled piece by piece.

The framing equipment and samples are moving to 70 South, but all the artwork — lithographs, oils, maps, photographs, mirrors and lots of empty frames — will continue to be offered at bargain prices until the end of the week.

Dave Vokes said the family reluctantly decided to close the shop rather than pay a rent increase and sign a longterm lease in the face of changing market conditions in the art business.

Sally Vokes, who has been an integral part of the gallery with husband Tom and son Dave since 1979, plans to donate all unsold merchandise to Habitat for Humanity.

Tom and Sally Vokes of Swain's Frame Shop & Art Gallery, at the 2019 Morristown Women in Business awards, March 20, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Tom and Sally Vokes of Swain’s Frame Shop & Art Gallery, at the 2019 Morristown Women in Business awards, March 20, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

She recalled how Tom originally worked for Swain’s Gallery in Plainfield when he was in high school, eventually opening satellites in White Plains and Pennsylvania, then came to Morristown in 1964 where he bought the business from Swain’s but kept the name.

The memories, however, are not for sale.

“I’ll miss the customers, so many wonderful people. We were never robbed, never had one thing stolen, and in all the years only had one bad check and that was before credit cards. It was just amazing.”

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