Despite challenges, Art Off Symmes owner says following dream worth it

When local business owner Sherry Armstead is named the 2015 Small-Business Person of the Year by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce this month, it will be validation that following her dream — literally — was the right move.

Armstead, owner of Art Off Symmes in downtown Hamilton and Art On Symmes in Fairfield, said her businesses are really community services that provide an outlet for American artists to showcase and sell their work.

“Sherry Armstead is a natural for small business person of the year,” said Betsy Hope of the Hamilton Community Foundation. “Sherry offers a great business which not only supports artists, but she is a supportive champion of small business and welcoming to other small businesses coming to Hamilton.”

Armstead, a Liberty Twp. resident, sat down with the Journal-News to share her thoughts on receiving the upcoming honor.

Q: How do you feel about receiving this honor?

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A: “My first reaction on hearing this news was, wow, really awesome. Then reality came along with tears of humility and joy and again thinking, really? What a privilege.”

Q: Tell us about your business, how did you get started?

A: “Art On Symmes was born out of a literal dream. When 9/11 occurred, I, along with my husband, owned a RE/MAX brokerage. In fact we were at a state convention when the (terrorist attacks in New York City) occurred. While walking to our car afterwards, I told Lou, I didn’t want to do real estate any longer. I’d been taking classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy and the Fitton Center, volunteering at Mercy Hospital gift shop and just wanted to leave the stress of owning a brokerage.”

“We put the building at 1000 Symmes Road up for sale. Within 30 days I had the literal dream that transformed the sign in front from RE/MAX to Art On Symmes, and the agent offices to artist studios. When I awoke, I hit the ground running and haven’t quit running since.”

“Art Off Symmes came about in 2011 after several customers urged me to be part of the downtown Hamilton revitalization. It was a challenge I didn’t realize would be one of the biggest I would ever under take.”

Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?

A: “I was so encouraged during the High Street construction of Art Off Symmes, with well wishers stopping by, excited for our opening, the well attended grand opening, everything perfect. Then January 2012 arrived — construction continued on the Lofts and the Mercantile building, sidewalks closed, bad weather — you name it, we faced it. Good days, bad days, worse days. More construction, more sidewalk closings, no parking. I actively looked for avenues for events and other businesses. I knew in my heart it would happen. I found good, customer-focused sales assistants.”

Q: What has been the recipe for your success?

A: “If you can conceive it, believe it, you can achieve it. Begin with the end in mind. If your customers win, you win. Treat each one like a precious gem and the rewards will follow. Hire good people to do the things you don’t like to do, but have to get done. Never, never quit. Build lasting relationships.”

Q: What is life like as a small business owner?

A: One thing it’s not is a 40-hour week, two-week vacations and leaving the job at the office. It’s putting in the time, energy, planning, money and ethics that make your customers know they are important and can count on you for the high level of service that they deserve.”

Q: How has the Chamber of Commerce helped your business succeed?

A: “The Chamber encouraged us throughout our journey and continues to be a force for recruiting new businesses. Their business after hours are always fun. And they have done a terrific job promoting Shop Small Saturday.”

Q: Would you do it all again?

A: “I wouldn’t know how to not do it again. But, hopefully I’d benefit from some of the mistakes it takes to be successful. I am excited for the future and look forward to every day. I have so much to be thankful for — my family, my friends, my staff and our loyal customers.”

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