Homegrown Business: Theresa Frazao of Rath Art Supplies

Located on Main Street, Rath Art Supplies has been a staple of the Vancouver art community since 2005. With a professional and knowledgeable staff, this store is the trusted spot for art supplies for both professionals and beginners. We got the chance to connect with owner Theresa Frazao about the store’s history to learn more.

Homegrown Business: Theresa Frazao of Rath Art Supplies

What is your business called and what does it do?

Rath Art Supplies is a one of a kind locally owned art supply store in Vancouver BC. We provide hard to find professional materials as well as excellent quality beginner supplies. With a focus on traditional drawing and painting supplies, our product lines include some of the finest materials available in the world. Professional artists rely on us for the materials they need to produce their work and students trust us with product and technical knowledge. All of our staff are artists and we also have a highly talented woodworker on our team. We’ve been trusted by countless artists to bring their work to life by building custom stretchers for artwork being prepared to show or sell, including treasured paintings passed down from family members, artwork bought on world travels and one-of-a-kind embroideries, tapestries and weavings. We make custom cradled birch panels in odd sizes and shapes and can build for over-sized projects as well – up to six by ten feet. Established in Hamilton, Ontario in 1988 and at 8th and Main in Vancouver since 2005, we are proud of our 36 year history.

What made you want to do this work?

I studied Art and Design in University and had always been an artist in my spare time but as I moved through life I found myself in a career in fundraising and communications for charitable non-profit organizations and art became something I did on the side. As I was trying to revive my own art practice and had booked a show at a local cafe, giving me a deadline to work towards, I encountered Rath Art Supplies and immediately fell in love with the store. I met the former owner, Stanley Rathbun, and we struck up a conversation wherein he talked about retiring one day and selling the store. Over the next few days I could think of nothing else. I wrote Stan a letter and invited him to coffee to chat with me about the possibility of buying his store when he was ready to retire. I worked for him for 3 years on Saturdays for free just to learn the business and then became the new owner in 2018.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

Rath was already established but I could see ways that my skills could be used to make improvements in the business. Stan did everything on his own, running the business, providing customer service and was also the carpenter building custom stretchers and wood panels. I knew that woodworking wasn’t my passion and that if I hired someone to do that part of the business, I could better manage the shop. When I bought the business there wasn’t a single computer file. Stan didn’t own a smartphone, a computer or a printer. There was no internet in the shop. Stan placed orders with all of his suppliers with handwritten faxes. When I bought the store those suppliers told me the only reason they even had a fax machine anymore was because that’s how Stan ordered products. They begged me to use email! And while customers grew very fond of the handwritten receipts and anachronistic ways, I needed to bring the store into the digital age. There was a time when it took nearly all day to look up the order codes for products and prepare orders from our suppliers and now I can run an inventory report and prepare an order within an hour. I created social media accounts for the shop and a website and we’ve been chipping away at getting our business online. While we do have a website where you can order products online, it’s currently set only to in-store pickup and we hope to complete our product info to be able to integrate with Canada Post and officially launch our e-commerce website before the end of 2024.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Many world famous contemporary artists are among our customers. We cater to both students and professional artists as well as hobbyists. We’re the only shop in the city that carries traditional sign painters enamel and lettering brushes purchased by old school sign painters and set decorators in the film industry. Artists from animation studios, architects and illustrators also shop with us. We’re also popular with tattoo artists, mural painters and graffiti artists. We don’t have a lot of materials specific to children except for around the holidays when we bring in more gift giving items, but with the right guidance, all of our art materials can be used safely and we love opening the minds of young artists to the possibilities of new materials.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

It’s tough to run a brick and mortar business in the post-covid age of Amazon but we run a steady business providing those items that you just have to see, touch and test in person, as well as through our custom canvas and wood panel orders.

Where in the city can we find your profession?

Rath Art Supplies is at 2412 Main Street at 8th Avenue in Vancouver BC Canada.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

The most important thing a customer needs to know about the products and services at Rath Art Supplies is that we don’t carry anything we wouldn’t use ourselves. Just ask us about the quality of our products and custom work and we’ll tell you that we carry the best student and professional grades with no inferior dollar store products and our custom work is unrivaled as we put great care and attention to detail in all that we do. Your artwork will look better after a visit to Rath!

 What is the best part about what you do?

I absolutely love talking to artists all day about colours, techniques, looking at their artwork, learning about new artists and just being immersed in colour. It’s an absolute joy to help teach people about how different products could work for them and I am learning new things every day about mediums unfamiliar to me.

What is the worst part?

It can be tough to be on the front lines in a retail business as we are accessible to anyone and everyone and sometimes when people are going through a very hard time in their life, they might transfer some of that pain onto us whether it be with rudeness, angry outbursts, shoplifting, trauma dumping or even inappropriately hitting on us! Sometimes we have to put on a brave face after difficult moments and we appreciate our loyal customers and friends who show us love whenever they visit our shop. Rath is a place where everyone should feel welcome and safe. We are inclusive, kind and caring and our customers mean the world to us.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

Why can’t you trust an artist? They are shady, sketchy and they might frame you!

Where can we follow you?

@rathartsupplies on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and our website.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

Steph Ford Studio – Stephanie has a risograph studio where she produces her own art, provides printing services and even teach workshops. @stephfordstudio


About Demian Vernieri 507 Articles
Demian is an Argentinian retired musician, avid gamer and editor for the Montréal Guardian, Toronto Guardian, Calgary Guardian and Vancouver Guardian websites.