Minas Konsolas is closing his art gallery in Hampden after 22 years, but he's not retiring his paint brushes.
"I'm going to my new chapter as a full-time painter," said Konsolas, 60, who runs Minas Gallery and Boutique, 815 W. 36th St., with his wife, Peggy, and also has an art studio in his house behind Saints Philip and James Catholic Church in Charles Village.
He said he is not closing immediately, however, and is in negotiations with a nearby antiques dealer, whom he would not name, to buy the building and the business.
The gallery, gift shop and community events space with its green awning has been a fixture on The Avenue for the past decade. For 12 years before that, it was part of the firmament in Fells Point, where the foot traffic included celebrities like actresses Melissa Leo and Tracey Ullman, said Konsolas, who still has the old guest book he made out of heavy brown paper in pre-digital days.
Now, Konsolas is preparing to hang it up, although he is taking some of his gift business online and will continue to showcase his own artwork at his website, http://www.minasgalleryandboutique.com, and in exhibits at his house.
"It's time for me to do something else," he said. "I almost feel like my store is keeping me away from my studio. People seem to like my work. I'd like to paint full-time."
He prides himself on keeping his prices low — roughly $200 to $700 per painting — and in changing genres.
"I'm consistently unpredictable," he said.
But he added, "It's going to be hard. It's hard to go away from your livelihood and something I did for so long."
Born in Greece, Konsolas in 1976 followed in the footsteps of his sisters, who migrated to Baltimore.
"I came to visit, and I'm still here," he said.
A 1985 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, he ran a bakery in Belvedere Square for seven years to pay off his student loan, and then, "I decided to do what I like."
He opened the gallery in 1992 at Ann and Lancaster streets in Fells Point, where he met Peggy.
"She was passing by and I laid eyes on her," he said.
In 2003, Tropical Storm Isabel passed by, wreaking havoc on the retail business.
"We flooded with Isabel," Konsolas said. "We had to move. We knew Hampden was the new destination for the bohemian crowd — which was most of our customers."
Now located next door to the Common Ground coffee shop on The Avenue, Konsolas has continued to make his mark, not only as a gallery and a shop selling everything from jewelry and fashionable women's jackets to T-shirts and used CDs, but as a space for events such as yoga classes, poetry readings, belly dancing performances and the regular Town Square Open Mic.
Konsolas has always identified with creative people. In his store, he pays a steady stream of eclectic mix CDs that his wife burns, featuring artists ranging from The Who and Fatboy Slim to Keb Mo and The Decemberists.
"Most of my friends are artists and musicians," he said. "The creative scene in Baltimore is one of the reasons I became a professional artist. It seems very organic, and it's growing. I think whatever was happening in SoHo in the '60s is what's happening in Baltimore today. The art scene is one of the growing industries in Baltimore."
With the advent of artists in neighborhoods like Hampden, and the rise in regional popularity of Artscape and quirky festivals such as HonFest, coupled with Baltimore's lower cost of living compared to bigger cities, "we're definitely connected with the rest of the world. We're now starting to carve our niche," he said.
Konsolas is sad to be leaving just as Baltimore is showcasing its artistic identity, but is glad that he played a role in helping to nurture the art scene. He hopes that the city will continue to promote its artistic side.
"They should pay even more attention to that, to be a destination," he said.
He also hopes the city will pay attention to its neighborhoods and making them more vibrant.
"That is my message," he said. "I would like people to pay attention to the communities and maintain the identity of the city. It's a comfortable town to be in, and it draws you in more and more. That is not true in many cities."