Garry Spears, with a pen in his right hand, leans over a designer's table just inside the front door of his store, The Art of Framing, in South Laurel on a recent Monday morning as two customers look on.
"This is a quarter-inch and this is 2 inches of matting [that is] showing," Spears says to Monica Kapps, a customer for nearly 20 years.
Store owner, framer and art consultant, Spears, 68, weathered a recession about eight years ago and several store moves and is now marking a quarter of a century of doing business in Laurel.
"You have to do this from an emotional standpoint," Spears says. "You have to understand what [a customer] likes. After 25 years, you learn something [by listening]. I ask a lot of questions," said Spears, who is married with four adult children.
Spears has nearly 3,000 frames in his store and an eclectic clientele. He once framed photos of eight pro basketball players, who had starred at the University of Maryland, as part of a farewell gift to former men's coach Gary Williams, a recent Hall of Fame nominee. Spears does frames for family portraits, wedding photos and military medals. Spears said most of his frames are wood, though metal is another element available. A typical frame for a 36 by 24-inch poster runs about $120, he said, but fancy frames for wedding photos can be three times that.
Spears is working on two frames for Kapps and her friend, Tim Reynolds. Reynolds gave Kapps a print of two cardinals for Christmas while Kapps presented Reynolds with a map, "The Earth's Moon," from National Geographic.
"I brought him one print to frame [in the 1990s] and he did a great job," said Kapps, a long-time Laurel resident. "He has a great staff and every time I have come here he has done a great job."
The store radio station is tuned to a local classical rock station — perhaps not the ambience one would imagine in a store with portraits of 1960s icon Marilyn Monroe, a Civil War scene and photos of sports favorites such as Cal Ripken Jr.
So what makes Spears and his staff successful? "I think it is partly his character," Kapps says. "It is his knowledge of art and his understanding of his art and his understanding of customers. He is very good at what a customer wants and what the customer is trying to accomplish in their home."
Spears grew up in Chicago and his father worked 41 years, mostly as a laborer, for the Santa Fe Railroad. The younger Spears, once stationed at Fort Meade, graduated from what is now Towson University in 1971 with a degree in psychology.
But he also had a minor in business and after college spent several years in banking and then nearly a decade with Nationwide Insurance in Anne Arundel County, though he tired of pushing papers. He worked briefly for a franchise, Fastframe, before he started The Art of Framing.
James Novaco and his wife, Shelley, have a wall filled with 32 photos, paintings and needlework at their home in Beltsville and all have been framed by Spears and his staff.
"He and my wife, who has a very artistic eye, collaborate on what they are going to do with each piece," says James Novaco. "I would take anything to him. What I like about him is he doesn't do things by the book. He works with you to get the right color, the type of frame right. A lot of personal touch — that is the best way to put it."
Clearly happy in his work, Spears said, "Most jobs are tough to administer [but] I could do this job forever. I am very fortunate. I have such a good following; they have kept me going."