Blame It on the Frames

Local business struggles to survive amid big-box competition

Sixty-two-year-old Josie Lucero is used to the almost nonexistent foot traffic at Emmanuel's, her Cerrillos Road frame shop.

A bid just came in from a new furniture store looking to spruce up its displays and provide a more in-home feel. She knows that will be the lone order she'll tackle for a while.

"Oh God, it's gone down," she says of the current state of the framing industry. "The economy is terrible, if this was my only income…forget about it."

A veteran in the field, Lucero also belongs to a dying breed.

"I'm busy, but not it's not like it was," she says, reminiscing about glory days long past. "For Indian Market, I had to work until probably seven every night. I remember in December, for Christmas, I would stay up till 11 at night trying to get everything out; that hasn't happened in over 10 years."

Pressed to pinpoint how long she's been in framing, Lucero pauses for a minute and does the math in her head. "My youngest daughter is 28, so about 28 years," she says. Back then, Lucero was taking art classes and noticed a void.

"There wasn't anybody doing frames, [so artists] had to go to Albuquerque," she recalls.   

Guided by her passion and sense of humor, she and her husband started a garage operation that soon grew into a full-fledged business. "We got it out of the Bible," she says of her store's namesake. "It means 'God is with us.' I figured we needed all the help we could [get] in this town," she chuckles.    

Rancheras playing softly from her radio commingle with the hum of a light-up sign propped by the window that boasts "1000's of ready made picture frames." Stock is piled up floor-to-rafters and though she has arthritic knees, Lucero works the labyrinth with ease.

"I'm a business owner," she says proudly. Having weathered many a storm, she adds that one of the best parts of the job are its flexible hours, which allowed her to also be a full-time mom. 

"I was able to raise my kids here," she says. "I have four of them, but my two youngest ones I raised in here. My youngest daughter Sarah used to love animals, so she would bring in her puppy [or] her cat. Then I took care of my father, so I was running a daycare, a nursing home and a little animal shelter," she quips, signaling a corner of the overcrowded store outfitted with a couple of kid-sized chairs and a small TV set, which is now her grandson's domain.

Lucero says that at its zenith, Santa Fe had around 32 framing establishments. Today, there are fewer than half that. She attributes her longevity in part to offering ready-made frames rather than the higher-priced, custom counterpart.

"They're more affordable," she says, adding that her mainstay $79.95 poster special would run almost twice as much at a custom framer's.

Lucero also notes that that big-box outfitters like Hobby Lobby and Michael's have made a significant dent in her business—though, she points out, their products are subpar.

"Most of their stuff comes from China…they carry a lot of plastics, and they really don't have a good selection," Lucero, who deals exclusively in wood—ranging from distressed to fancy brocade—says.

The occasional personal relationship with a local artist or gallery has kept Emmanuel's afloat—something Lucero does not take for granted.

"I enjoy it. I get to meet a lot of interesting people and I see a lot of artwork," she says.

The job also allows her to stretch her creative muscle by playing around with endless frame and matting options. However, her family would like for her to slow down.

"They ask me, 'When are you going to retire?' and I tell them when I croak over, probably. I just like to be busy; that's just the kind of person I am."

"Besides," she says, "my husband is retired, which means I'd be stuck with him at home all the time."

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.