Former bus garage in Los Alamos becomes space for eclectic art
An old buggy and another classic vehicle, a 1953 Kaiser Manhattan, grab your eye where you walk into a cavernous, former bus garage in Los Alamos.
As you walk past the car, you see tall lamp posts and a decorative door under the sign “Local Artisans Enterprise.” Beyond that in this high-ceilinged room are all kinds of art, from jewelry to paintings to even a wood rendition of the American flag.
Welcome to T&T Local Artisans Enterprise, 515 Bell St.
It’s not your typical gallery.
“We wanted it to be very big and open,” Dan Thompson told the News-Press.
Mr. Thompson owns T&T Local Artisans Enterprise and the Depot Mall full of antique shops next door. In fact, he owns this entire Bell Street block and had been using T&T Local Artisans Enterprise for overflow storage from the Depot Mall.
Social distancing is no problem in the 5,000-square-foot gallery, with plenty of space between the artists’ areas, which go around the perimeter. Some of the art is in the middle of the room.
The structure has the feel of a county fair, in which you walk from booth to booth, see the art and read biographies on the artists. Mr. Thompson said space has been left out front for possible, future demonstrations by artists.
He praised James McCullar for creating artists’ display walls that can easily be collapsed and moved around as needed. “Thanks to Jim’s excellent work, we can move them around.”
To support small businesses and give artists a place to show their works, Mr. Thompson converted the building into T&T Local Artisans Enterprise with a soft opening on Black Friday in November. He said former owners of the property called it T & T because their names started with a T.
The number of artists grew from 25 to about 60, from between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
“It’s pretty evenly spaced. We have a lot of artists from Santa Barbara, a few Los Alamos people and artists from Lompoc, Santa Maria, Guadalupe, San Luis Obispo,” manager Adria Chalfin told the News-Press.
A walk around the booths shows everything from a guitar turned into an art piece to wood clocks to fabric arts.
The mix of eclectic art was intentional, Ms. Chalfin said. “We have oils, acrylics, pastels, fine art and digital art photographers, watercolors, metals, cloth art, pottery, handmade clothing.
“I think that’s what everybody appreciates. They get to see what kind of art is in the community,” she said.
“There isn’t a person who comes in here who doesn’t rave about their lovely, beautiful experience here,” Ms. Chalfin said. She noted people tell her, “This was so needed here.”
Mr. Thompson noted the uniqueness of the art works. “All of these pieces have soul.”
Mr. Thompson said he was surprised by the gallery’s popularity with artists and customers alike. “I knew there was a desire to have more retail here, but I was surprised by how they reacted and how well it’s actually done.”
He noted the business keeps costs affordable for artists with the gallery’s 10% commission on the sales.
“Artists need a venue,” Ms. Chalfin said.
Mr. Thompson said the gallery, which closed during the earlier stages of the pandemic like other businesses, has done well since reopening. Like in other buildings, customers, artists and staff alike wear masks.
Before T&T Artisans Enterprise, Mr. Thompson worked as an artist — a photographer, to be precise.
The Santa Barbara native earned his GED in 1983 after attending Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley Union High Schools. Afterward, he attended Seattle Pacific University but returned to Santa Barbara, where he earned his bachelor’s in media in 1989 at Brooks Institute of Photography.
After working in photography, he worked with his father, contractor Jerry Thompson (the builder of the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez), in property management.
Dan Thompson moved during the mid-1990s to Los Alamos and went on to buy properties. “We look for odd ducks and figure out what to do with them.”
He purchased the nearby building in his block in 2001 and turned it into the Depot Mall.
Mr. Thompson, who resides at homes in Los Alamos and San Luis Obispo, explained he is happy to have turned another large building into the T&T Artisans Enterprise. “It makes all the sense in the world to use this space in that way.”
And that 1953 Kaiser Manhattan? It used to belong to Mr. Thompson’s father, and Ms. Chalfin said it’s great to have it parked inside the gallery.
“It’s a work of art.”
T&T Artisans Enterprise is located at 515 Bell St., Los Alamos. For hours and other information, call the business at 805-680-8911.