OAKLAND -- The Art Loft custom framing store in Montclair Village, one of the district's oldest businesses run by a single owner, is celebrating its 40th year in business.
"Everyone said I was crazy, even my father," said Tom Brodehl, the store's owner, when he opened the framing shop in 1973.
"The only one that supported me was my girlfriend, Celeste. I married her the next year," Brodehl said with a grin. The couple has been framing the East Bay's art work and treasures together ever since.
"He was so enthusiastic. It was fun to see him get organized," said Celeste Brodehl, a former schoolteacher.
Tom Brodehl was raised in Oakland and graduated from Bishop O'Dowd High School in 1964.
"I grew up in the business, so I knew it," he said.
He worked in his father's store, the Glass House on MacArthur Boulevard, from age 12 and even manned the store solo on weekends from age 16. Brodehl opened the Art Loft when he was 26. The original location was near the Pagarung Thai restaurant's current Antioch Street location. The location was less than ideal, as street visibility was limited. But because the space was less desirable, the rent was cheap.
"Some of it was luck," Brodehl said. "I had a good landlord."
"There is no way a 26-year-old could open a store like this today," said Sabrina Santoyo, who works with the Brodehls at the Art Loft.
Today, the shop is still going strong.
"I'm not a retail business, I'm a service business," Brodehl said. "I'm like a plumber with a store front. Framing is a custom product that you are going to use a few times in your life.
"It's an art to do what we do," he said. "Anyone can get a matte and some glass. I don't compete with big box stores. It's not my niche."
He describes his local clients as "discerning customers" to whom he listens. Drawing from his nearly half-century in the business, he makes suggestions when necessary.
"This is a timeless business," he said. "It's a hard thing for people to order online. There are quality issues. You can't see the real colors on your computer.
"I love what I do. That's why I do it," Brodehl continued.
"The success of a mom-and-pop business is that the owner is willing to work 80 hours a week. Half of the success of a mom-and-pop business is the personality of the owner."
Brodehl's favorite part of the job is "dealing with the customers. You have to be nice to the customers. That's the best part of the job."
Over the years, the Brodehls have watched Montclair Village change in many ways and remain the same in others. Physically, the Village has changed very little since the 1970s, with the exception of the construction of a few buildings.
"People like to beat up Montclair, but it's a nice place to do business," he said. "It's cleaner and nicer than a lot of urban retail areas."
As for the future, he said: "I'm still going strong and will keep going as long as my body lets me. Not many self- employed people want to give up their business. It's like giving up your baby."