Artist and business owner puts Prince Albert’s oldest Central Avenue building up for sale

Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the property at 1120 Central Avenue was the oldest building in Prince Albert’s downtown. It should have stated that it was the oldest building on Central Avenue. The Daily Herald apologizes for the error.

The oldest building on Central Avenue is once again up for sale.

Originally constructed more than 100 years ago as a drug store, the property at 1120 Central Avenue has since housed a jeweler, a book store, and most notably, Celebration by Design, which was owned and operated by the Adams family.

Businesswoman and artist Gail Carlson purchased the property in 2017 and turned it into an art gallery and pottery studio. Despite initial success, Carlson said the COVID-19 pandemic has set her too far back financially to stay open. Now, she plans to sell the property she originally viewed as a retirement plan.

“It’s a really good investment to be into. It’s just that I was at the beginning of it, and I don’t have the finances to withstand it,” Carlson said. “I have to close and just leave. I was just caught (by the pandemic), and it’s the same with the business that I set up here. Yes, it will be a great business and it will work. I just don’t have the energy to do it anymore.”

Carlson will still keep making pottery, and plans to re-open her gallery on Tuesday like most retail businesses in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to save it.

She expects to make between $300 and $400 in sales per month, if she’s lucky. That’s not nearly enough to offset the financial hit she took by closing.

The business was a luxury project since the grand opening in December 2017, although it was well on its way to profitability. Carlson expected to hit that point within a year or two, but then the pandemic hit and wiped out most of her gains.

“It would be like starting all over again, and there’s no way I have the energy, nor the money, nor the time,” she explained.

Carlson purchased the building with the intent of restoring it both inside and out. Over the next three years she finished the basement and the main floor, with the upper floor apartment area and external façade next on the list.

The building soon became a must-see attraction on the Historical Walking Tour, while the gallery became a welcome site for local art lovers.

“It was so cool because they would walk in and their faces would light up, their heads would go up and look at the ceiling and they’d all go, ‘aaaah,’” Carlson remembered with a chuckle. “They would take time, and nobody was in a hurry. Nobody was angry. Nobody had to buy anything. They could just be.”

Carlson plans to keep the gallery and studio open as long as it takes to sell the building. That could be two months, or it could be two years. She’d like to see the next owners continue her mission to restore it to its original condition, and maybe create a wine bar, a bistro or a concert space on the upper floor.

While she has no regrets, Carlson said it’s difficult to watch local ‘mom and pop’ style businesses struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. She views them as the most important opportunity, and hopes a local business owner or artist will step in to take her place.

Carlson intends to move to Edmonton after the sale to be closer to her grandchildren, but she’ll miss the community of artists, history lovers and downtown business people she’s grown to love.

“Whoever does decide to take over the building, they’re taking it over at a good time because downtown is just going to improve,” she said. “It will come back (after the pandemic). I just don’t have the energy anymore.”

The property at 1120 Central Avenue was first listed in 1909 as Rowe’s Drug Store, but became vacant in 1913. Jeweller Fred W. Wright took over from 1914 to 1939, and Eilers Ltd. Jewellers occupied the building from 1941 to 1947. Prince Albert’s Adams family, proprietors of Celebrations by Design, moved into the building in 1948. The family-owned business occupied the building for the next eight decades.

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