From the time that William Keeton opened an office supply store on Old Main Street in 1951, the business has been a fixture in downtown Bradenton.
Keeton’s was actually in two locations on Old Main Street before relocating nearby to its current address, a former hardware store, at 817 Manatee Ave. W. in 1968.
Big changes are happening at Keeton’s Office & Art Supply, following the sale in January of the office supply and office furniture divisions to Apex Office Products of Tampa.
What Apex did not buy is the art supply division, which has been renamed Creative Art Supply, or the property on which the businesses sit. SVN Real Estate is advertising the property for sale as a 1.55-acre redevelopment site.
Brice Hoopingarner, 64, who owned Keeton’s with his wife Tricia, said he had no plan to sell the business until approached by Apex. But after thinking about the proposal for a while, it made sense to him.
“I could never imagine selling the property. When they approached me, I had to reconsider,” he said. “We have a lot of long-term customers. We share a lot of the same principles, and the same computer system.”
Selling the business would allow him to begin making plans for retirement, and to make up for years of hard work growing a small business. He and Tricia have been married nearly 42 years and have six children and 11 grandchildren.
Alex Lorente, owner of Apex, agreed to hire all of Keeton’s commercial staff, everyone from drivers to sales and customer service representatives.
“We want the customers to be very comfortable with this transition. When they call in here, they are talking to the same staff as before,” Hoopingarner said, adding that he is staying on to assist with the transition of ownership and rebranding of the business.
The Keeton’s Office Supply website now opens as Apex Office Products.
For anyone who has grown accustomed to buying their art supplies at Keeton’s, that business will continue under the same ownership with the new name — Creative Art Supply.
What the casual customer may not know is that Creative Art Supply is more than a place to buy paints and brushes. It is also a classroom for artists.
The company books art instructors from around the United States — and even the United Kingdom — to teach art classes in the studio on the premises, said Frank Perry, retail sales manager for Creative Art Supply.
“We draw people from all over the world to work with Jean Haines,” Perry said of the noted watercolor artist. “We have a waiting list of about 80 people.”
The classes provide artists with an opportunity to interact with other like-minded people, develop their art, and learn in a classroom setting with their paint and brushes.
“We are in the process of taking the workshops to the next level with a virtual studio,” Perry said.
While still early, Creative Art Supply is planning to offer a subscription service to artists who can experience virtual learning from the comfort of their home or studio.
“The west coast of Florida is a rich hub for visual arts folks,” Perry said. “People also travel here seasonally. We had a group come here for art lessons, while their husbands went golfing and to spring training baseball.”
Keeton’s added a line of art supplies to the business 20 years ago. “It’s taken a while to evolve,” Hoopingarner said.
As has all of the business since William Keeton started it 68 years ago.
Hoopingarner was studying to be a licensed optician when his father-in-law — Mr. Keeton, as he still refers to him — invited him to join the business as part of his succession plan.
He started work at Keeton’s in 1980 as a retail floor clerk and worked his way up into management.
Eventually, Brice and Tricia bought the business from Mr. Keeton.
Along the way, the business survived several recessions, the arrival of big-box office supply stores and on-line sales competition.
“Where we shine is our service. We always seem to attract good employees,” Hoopingarner said.
Creative Art Supply may not always be located on its familiar corner. After all, the property is for sale.
“If and when the property sells, we want to relocate where it would make the most sense. We would start our search in the downtown area,” Hoopingarner said.
The businesses are open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday.