‘Steam Happens’: Virginia frame shop reopens after steam leak

Owner Nicki Johnson is shown at Fine Edge Custom Framing in Virginia, which re-opened this week followng a steam leak four months ago.

VIRGINIA — “Steam Happens.”

That is the recent motto of Fine Edge Custom Framing in Virginia, which re-opened Tuesday after cleanup from a devastating steam leak four months ago.

“It’s good to be back,” said Nicki Johnson, who originally opened the shop nine years ago this month.

Steam did “happen” at the business. Lots of it.

Johnson recapped the story Wednesday afternoon at the shop, which is now all spiffed up, looks similar to its former self, and is even offering some “Steamy Deals.”

Johnson opened the front door of the shop at 107 N. Fourth Ave., on the Monday morning of July 1, and was hit with “a brick wall of steam.”

While the business does not use steam, a city pipe that runs through the building had burst, filling the store with water vapor. The break could have happened 24 to 36 hours before Johnson found the disaster, she said.

Her first reaction — aside from shock — was to save what she could of “customers’ cherished belongings” and local artists’ work.

Johnson quickly started placing things onto the sidewalk outside the business. Passersby stepped in to help.

Luckily, Johnson said, large metal flat files that stored many the prints and artworks waiting to be framed protected some of those items. “Some photos and posters,” however, were too damaged to be saved.

But, thankfully, she added, “nothing that couldn’t be replaced was destroyed.”

Framing samples, materials and personal items of Johnson and business partner, Gayle Streier, including artwork, were lost.

The duo was saddened to inform customers that the business would be closed until further notice, and the two custom framers spent the following months completing orders that had been placed before the steam leak.

Customers were understanding, “vendors were super awesome and helpful,” and the insurance company was prompt in handling the case, Johnson said. “(Virginia) Pubic Utilities was also helpful getting us back up and running.”

The delay in re-opening was due to the timing of finding an available contractor, she noted. Portions of the building had to be gutted, including the ceilings and insulation, and the electrical work had to be replaced.

“It took a lot of work,” Johnson said.

But the patience and gratefulness of patrons who anticipated the re-opening made it all worthwhile, she said.

Loyal customers are key to the business, which is 99% custom framing, Johnson said. The shop also sells art and gifts.

A selection of art prints, tabletop frames, greeting cards, and other items are currently “a steamy” 50-75% off.

“We are ready to kick off the Christmas season,” Johnson said. Some items will come and go “pop-up” style, she said. The store at the moment has an array of local art, local handmade goods and jewelry, ceramics, soaps, gnomes and hand-painted Santas.

Johnson’s dad, the late Pat Horan, had started a framing business inside the former Ben Franklin craft store in downtown Virginia, which he owned and operated.

After his death in 2003, Johnson took over the custom framing portion of the business. She now has 16 years of experience, and Streier has nearly as much.

Johnson said the upcoming opening of Hobby Lobby in Virginia may have an impact on the Fine Edge, but she is confident customers who are loyal to the shop and to small business, and those who appreciate the talent, expertise and detail of custom framing from experienced people will keep her business running smoothly.

Johnson said she has framed everything from a horse tail to ashes, guns to animal skulls, and all types of art, clothing, and fabric. A customer recently brought in a turkey feather to be framed, which was not a challenge because “I know how the oils release on the paper.”

The basics of framing, such as cutting glass, can easily be learned, she said. But an authentic custom framer has to innately “have an eye for it,” she said of the creative part.

“I’m grateful for all of our faithful customers and their support,” Johnson said, adding that “it’s been fun to see people back.”

Fine Edge Custom Framing’s current hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday.


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