Art Factory & Party Place / Art and Coffee didn’t open as a place to get a cup of coffee, but it eventually made sense to serve something, so Tal Thompson did.
A self-described disinterested student, the Israeli immigrant was kicked out of a mainstream school — and then thrived at one where she could pursue art. After compulsory service in the Israeli military, Thompson got a job at the USO in Haifa, where he worked with American soldiers and women. There she fell in love with an American biomedical engineer, moved to Georgia after 18 months of long-distance relationship, married him, received a degree in design from the Art Institute of Atlanta and had two children. Thompson used her talent in graphic design in corporate positions, doing freelance catalog work for clients like Bloomingdale’s. To make extra money, she imported temporary tattoos from Israel and sold body art items to friends and neighbors from her kitchen table.
When the economy collapsed in 2008, graphic design work dried up and the Thompson family moved to Richmond, where her husband Cliff had gotten a job. She found work as a creative director for political strategists at a direct marketing company, but after three years she had had enough. In 2012 she was ready to market her own products and savvy enough to design a website to sell them.
“I started working full-time to build this body art business…face paint and other makeup products used primarily by entertainers,” she says. Soon the online operation was too big to run from home. Thompson rented a small space in the Market Square Shopping Center. It was near her home in Brandermill and a foray into brick-and-mortar sales.
Thompson was pleasantly surprised by the response. “What happens when you open a door to community? The church is coming! And not only do they come, they tell you what to do…” The biggest request was that Thompson entertain children at parties with face painting and art. This is how the Art Factory began. “A party space allows you to host those events… I don’t have to run. You come to me. My stuff is here, right? Much easier.”
The community welcomed the newcomers. Soon Thompson was also offering art classes and art workshops. In 2018, Tal decided to expand from 2,600 to 12,000 square feet, adding larger party rooms and studios, as well as a huge playground in the entryway where they would also sell coffee. Thompson thought coffee would be a great way to attract moms with preschoolers. The renovation took eight months. The Art Factory reopened in December 2019 – just before the global COVID-19 pandemic.
When Thompson had to close in spring 2020, online sales had also dried up. Who needed makeup and body paint when shows were suspended around the world? Thompson had paid for the store’s renovation out of his own pocket so the operation was debt-free, but several dozen employees were on payroll and rent was still due.
She was fearless. “In moments of crisis, opportunities also arise,” says Thompson. Using patterns from a friend, Thompson turned her staff into a balloon delivery service that hosted birthday parties for boys and girls back home. She’s also repurposed her stash of body jewelry. “Parents were still stuck at home with their kids, so we started putting art sets together. Our makeup shop had all our branded brushes on them. So it was like our branded to-do kit with all the step-by-step instructions and supplies.” PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] Loans helped cover the payroll.
Actually, opening the store was a bigger challenge. Art studios have not been classified as “essential” business by the government. Neither did the playground that Thompson had in the entrance. But restaurants were. Moving the playground to a separate space allowed her to move Art Factory & Party Place (now with Art and Coffee) into the foodservice category. “So our coffee shop is our COVID baby,” she explains. And it’s thriving.
Thompson attacked the coffee business with the same vigor she uses to sell tattoos, makeup, art classes, and balloons. She’s partnered with Guide coffee roasters for supplies (and the necessary know-how) and with other locals for bread and cake pops. “It started making money in the first month,” she says. “We added a rib to this crazy operation so we could intercept our own traffic. If we take 45 kids to camp, that’s 45 families going in and out. And there’s still a totally cool community that just comes for coffee and sits and works on their laptops.” You can also buy goods at the counter, from jewelry to soap and of course art. The shop is open seven days a week, Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m
Thompson attributes her success to keeping a close eye on her customers. “My father owned a shoe store, so I learned to sell when I was a kid. But what I’ve learned here in the US is more of the art of selling…observing our customers and seeing what they need and trying to meet those needs. Everything we add has a big purpose. It either has to make sense as part of our process or it has to make sense as it serves the community.”
Art Factory & Party Place / Art and Coffee is located at 4810 Market Square Lane. Phone: 804-716-5219. ¦