Before Jacqui Ertischek doubled the size of 2 Friends Gallery in Midtown's Benson Center, she was on the verge of giving up her eight-year-old business.

"All last summer I was going back and forth thinking of selling this gallery," she said. "I'm getting older and it's a lot of work."

When two events aligned just a few months later, Ertischek had a drastic change of heart and mind.

First, downtown gallery Artique closed its doors in December after 45 years, leaving many artists with fewer venues to sell and show their work. Shortly after Artique's exit, Flypaper, the card and gift shop next door to 2 Friends, announced it was closing.

So instead of calling it quits, Ertischek rented the space Flypaper once occupied and made 2 Friends a bigger spot. The newly expanded gallery celebrated its grand opening earlier this month.

"I thought, things are lining up, so I decided just to go for it and here it is now," she said.

Alaska is in the midst of a recession — not generally considered an economic climate that's good for the art market. Ertischek said she recognizes the risk of upsizing her business when she did.

"Sure I'm worried," Ertischek said. "I'm taking a big gamble and hoping our customers realize that and shop local."

A doll by Helen Smith and other works were on display at the 2 Friends Gallery on April 14. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)
A doll by Helen Smith and other works were on display at the 2 Friends Gallery on April 14. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

So far, troubled economic times hasn't hit 2 Friends too hard, Ertischek said.

"We did well last year. Better than the year before," she said. "Christmas was a little down, but not much."

She said part of her strategy is to offer enough affordable clothing and home accessories in the gallery to draw in shoppers who aren't looking for a big art purchase.

A large part of Ertischek's business is the secondary art market, or consignment art. People often want to sell art they inherited or just don't want or have room for in their homes.

The consignment pieces share walls and display cases with art Ertischek gets directly from contemporary Alaska artists like Anna Morgenthaler, Marianne Whelan, Barbara Lavallee and Guitta Corey.

"For the most part they're paintings by Alaskan artists," she said.

Ertischek also gets presented with plenty of peculiar pieces that don't stand a chance of making it into the 2 Friends mix.

"People have brought in painted toilet seats, which used to be very popular," Ertischek said. (She doesn't accept them, she said, no matter how passionately the consigner points out all the lovely and unique details of the seat's landscape painting or other image.)

If Ertischek accepts art from a consigner, she, the consigner, and sometimes a colleague with art appraisal skills, work to settle on a price.

"If (the consigner) has a price in mind and I think it's a crazy price, I'll say, 'Try Craig's List,' " she said.

Currently, one of the most expensive pieces is a handmade wooden Dolly Spencer doll adorned with an intricate seal intestine jacket, that Ertischek priced at $5,000. On the lower end of the price range are framed Olympics posters by Byron Birdsall for less than $100.

Sometimes Ertischek and her staff are stunned by what people don't want. They were pleasantly shocked when a consigner brought in a whimsical, wall-sized painting with floating fish and naked women by the late Jeffrey Combs.

The consigner didn't have a clue as to its value.

"He brought it in and said 'Do you know who this is?' and we were like, 'Yeah,'" said 2 Friends manager Jessie Burch.

The gallery is a favorite location in the friendship of Linda Jacob and Sudy Rose. They came in the week after the grand opening to see the expanded space and do some shopping.

"Sudy's daughter's birthday is in June and I said to her at lunch that we have to go and check out 2 Friends," Jacob said. "I knew they expanded it."

Ertischek strongly depends on repeat business and word of mouth from customers like Jacob and Rose because 2 Friends isn't downtown, where tourists are likely to tread.

"None of the tourists that come up on cruises and bus tours and things like that" come here, she said. "What I get is friends and family."

Tam Johannes’s glasswork is on display at the 2 Friends Gallery. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)
Tam Johannes’s glasswork is on display at the 2 Friends Gallery. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)