By Anton K. Nilsson
Dollar stores are ubiquitous in New York City—dosing out breakable plastic objects and household products to customers for affordable prices. The smarter ones will advertise products for less than a dollar, even if it it’s just a matter of subtracting one cent.
Some dollar stores aren’t even dollar stores at all, like 99 Cent Plus, an independent fine art gallery housed in a former discount store front in Bushwick. Next month, 99 Cent Plus will celebrate its one-year anniversary. The Greenpoint Gazette spoke to Riley Strom, one of the proprietors of the birthday baby, to recap the year that has been.
Hi Riley! How has the first year been?
This year has been really fun and rewarding. We have been so privileged to have such support from so many people that are excited about the space.
How has the reception been so far?
The reception has been very positive. We always have a great turn out at the exhibitions and feel super supported by other galleries in Brooklyn—from Outlet Gallery, which is across the street, to Signal which is a prominent Bushwick gallery. We are all rooting for each other, because the more successful the local galleries are the closer we are to establishing Bushwick as a major art destination in New York.
Outside of the artistic community, we have definitely established some lasting relationships with members of the neighborhood—everyone on our block was immediately welcoming and interested in what we were doing to the space. We met a lot of people from the neighborhood from them popping in to look at the shows and the Handjob Gallery/Store. We were doing all of the construction ourselves and a lot of people came by and introduced themselves and offered their help. We’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing community.
Who are involved and how?
We have three co-owners of the gallery—Zoe Fisher, Simran Johnston and me. Zoe also founded and runs Handjob Gallery/Store which shares the storefront with 99 Cent Plus Gallery.
How did you come up with the idea to start a gallery?
We came up with the idea to start 99 Cent Plus when we moved to Brooklyn after studying fine arts at Sarah Lawrence College. Zoe had been running Handjob Gallery/Store for about half a year as a pop-up shop in many different locations and wanted a storefront, and Simi and I were seeking an art studio where they could make their own work as well. The ultimate goal was to find a space where we could do all that in addition to also establishing an exhibition space that catered to our specific artist community.
Why the name? Is it a result of the location you found, or was that the plan all along?
The name 99 Cent Plus Gallery is definitely referencing the location of the gallery. It was originally a 99 cent store and we decided to keep the name on the awning as a nod to the original space and to our goal as a gallery to make contemporary art more inclusive and accessible to the community at large. 99 cent stores act as symbol for accessibility and although our artwork is not quite at that price point we hope to create an environment that fosters an accessible dialogue about contemporary art that is both enticing and inclusive to people that might not be interested in it ordinarily. The ‘Plus’ in 99 Cent Plus alludes to the Handjob Gallery/Store and studio spaces that occupy the same physical space as the gallery.
Tell us about the upcoming one-year anniversary. What do you have planned?
For our year anniversary we are planning a second Art Shop, based on [the same concept as] our opening exhibition. The concept for the show is this: 9 curators select 11 artists to donate one small artwork to the gallery and they are sold for $9.99. We will have some exciting curators and local galleries participating so it should be an excellent batch of artists and artworks. We decided on this concept for our opening event at 99 Cent Plus because it set the tone of our original goal as a gallery to promote the accessibility and inclusivity of contemporary art works as well as provide a space where many different artists can collaborate and participate in a large project.
99 Cent Plus and Handjob Gallery/Store is located at 238 Wilson Avenue in Bushwick. They host exhibitions with new artists monthly.