Art and Frame of Falls Church owner Tom Gittins didn’t plan to work with art. Originally, he worked in the all-consuming hotel business, but after downsizing swallowed his position, he said he knew he wanted to try something new.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Gittins, 57, said.
Art was an important part of Gittins’ childhood. His mother, former artist Susanne Gittins, did everything: “Painted oils, watercolors, sketches, pen and ink, and my dad would frame her work,” Gittins said.
Suzanne Gittins, 78, said making art helped her express herself— her favorite medium was watercolor. “I just had to get it out,” she said.
Tom Gittins had picked up framing skills from his father. Newly divorced with two young children, he decided to take a chance.
“I walked across the street and asked the guy if he was interested in selling his picture frame shop,” Gittins said.
Gittins added: “That was really the only thing I knew how to do.”
On September 1, 2001, Art and Frame of Falls Church first opened its doors. The timing was very memorable because the 9/11 tragedy occurred shortly after, Gittins said.
“I questioned what the heck I was doing,” he said.
“But then I found out…people become very introverted in emergency situations and crisis and they tend to reflect. And from that, they may want to frame something very personal.”
People frame anything and everything, Gittins said, including old war photos and photos of family and loved ones. Once, Gittins said, he framed a picture of Marilyn Monroe with a fur coat surrounding it.
“We actually cut up the coat and put that under glass,” Gittins said, smiling.
Today, Art and Frame enjoys a consistent flow of business while offering dozens of studio spaces to tenants.
According to Gittins, the toughest parts of running the shop are the many challenges that come with owning a business: leaks after storms, broken plumbing, faulty gutters… the list goes on.
“Those little headaches… the little things can build up,” Gittins said.
For Gittins, the best part of the framing process is the customer’s reaction when the final product is unveiled.
“The expressions on their face….Wow,” Gittins said.
The store hosts “FIRSTfriday” events on the first Friday of every month, where artists and performers can showcase their work, Gittins said. The latest event, which occurred March 1, featured an art exhibition, musical performance, wine tasting, studio tours and more, according to the website. The FIRSTfriday tradition is as old as the shop— 18 years, according to Gittins.
Gittins said his favorite part about being located in Falls Church is the sense of close-knit community.
“I know the mayor, Mayor Tarter comes to First Friday events,” Gittins said. “If I go into City Hall and I need something, they know who I am, I know who they are.”
The local businesses in the area form a supportive ecosystem, Gittins said. Discounts and samples for local businesses are often offered at FIRSTfriday events, for example.
Suzanne Gittins said the real magic of Art and Frame is the company, advice and listening ear her son provides for customers.
“People will come into the shop with nothing to frame,” Tom Gittins admitted with a laugh.
Gittins said he tried to recreate the friendly atmosphere of the grocery store his grandfather used to own in New York.
“He’d create this space in the back of the grocery store for people to come and visit, especially kids, so they aren’t on the streets after school,” Gittins said, becoming emotional.
Just like his grandfather, Gittins said he strives to make Art and Frame of Falls Church “a welcoming neighborhood place.”