A Hub for Creative Community
By Emily Wenstrom
Brilliant colors cover the wall of Sam Flax Orlando’s storefront with bright and lively murals, serving as a visual testament to the store’s identity as not just an arts supplier, but a part of the creative community.
The murals were just repainted in October during an event that brought together local mural artists and the community at large with a celebration featuring face painting, music, and more.
It’s just one of the ways Sam Flax Orlando continues to embody the company’s long legacy of putting creatives first—a tradition that is part of its rich history as a family-owned business spanning back almost 100 years. The company has had a presence in Orlando for a quarter of that century.
“We’re part of the community, and we see that as part of our identity,” said Branch Manager, Sam Flax. Flax is the grandson of the store’s founder, for whom the company is named.
Even in the store’s early years, founder Sam Flax was known to provide art supplies on credit to struggling artists who couldn’t afford to buy them, telling them to just pay him back when they could. Against the odds, this business model worked out well for Flax—among these artists were some who became the biggest names of the era, including Norman Rockwell and Zero Mostel. Salvador Dali is also said to have been among the New York store’s frequent customers in the early years.
Creating a Colorful Future
But the current Sam Flax prefers not to spend too much time dwelling on the company’s storied past. “Honestly, I’d rather look forward to our future,” he said.
And Flax is right—there’s plenty to talk about in the company’s present. In fact, the store offers such a variety of products and services that it is more akin to a community hub than a typical supplier.
“Our store is like a meeting ground, not just for artists but for all kinds of creative people,” said Flax.
The store hosts several classes and workshops, including a free class every Thursday at 5 p.m. on a wide range of ever-changing topics. Some focus on traditional art skills, but “they’re not just painting lilies in oil,” Flax insisted. Other classes take on skills like embossing, chalk art for kids, and as of this fall, 3D printing.
Another way the store supports artists is by sponsoring events like Orlando Art Museum’s First Thursdays, where local artists are invited to set up in the museum to showcase and sell their work. For Flax, engaging with the local arts community is simply a way of life.
A Tradition of Innovation
Though the arts are at the company’s heart, Sam Flax’s offerings have expanded far beyond. Some companies might become staid over time when their identities are tied to tradition, but at Sam Flax, a cornerstone of that tradition is a forward-thinking, curious spirit.
“We want to break the perception that we’re just for artists,” Flax said. “We’re not just retail…We’re an innovative company.”
True to its artistic roots, Sam Flax does carry plenty of art supplies, including the highest quality pens and stationery. But it also carries a wide range of other incredible products and services, including office chairs, custom framing, an extensive gifts section, wide format printing and even custom gift wrapping, which can be printed with anything from a company logo to your family members’ faces.
“We offer lots of merchandise you don’t see anywhere else,” Flax said.
This statement couldn’t be truer for the newest item to hit Sam Flax: 3D printers. The initiative brings 3D printers to the store this fall, both for sale and in-store printing. Flax expects their in-store services will be used for everything from professional architects creating 3D models to individuals who want a custom “Yoda from Star Wars, but with your own face on it.”
How does the company stay a step ahead? Flax credited the company’s knack for vision to watching out for what’s hot in the industry and taking the time to research the trends.
When it comes to introducing customers to these new offerings, Sam Flax relies on its stellar team of employees. “[Customer service] is one of those family traits we’ve passed down as a family business,” Flax said. “We go the extra mile.” Many Sam Flax employees are local artists themselves, and their passion for their work shows in their demeanor and knowledge when helping customers.
“The art community here is thriving; it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Flax said. And Sam Flax is thriving along with it.
From its earliest days during the Great Depression in New York City, to its current locations in Orlando and Atlanta, Sam Flax has maintained a role as not only an art supplies seller, but as an active contributor to the creative community. Building from its rich history to create a vibrant present, Sam Flax always keeps one eye to the future, where the colors are surely just as bright.
1800 E. Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL 32803