by Sharon Jonas
For nearly 60 years people have trusted family owned ABCO Art in Bellmore to embellish and preserve their treasured artwork and items by using custom framing as the tool for those major embellishments.
“People bring in things that are so special to them,” says Arleen Leeds, owner and remaining member of the Leeds family. “We love being a part of the community, and making people feel at home.”
Beyond paintings and traditional artwork, an amazing array of items, some complete, others still in process on an oversized, immaculate work table, include: A pair of Golden Glove boxer shorts, a 1994 cover of the New York Post exclaiming “Rangers Win!” the Stanley Cup, a college diploma restored like new after superstorm Sandy left it curled and moldy, an arrangement of ticket stubs and photographs of a day meant never to be forgotten, and a recently found colorful certificate proclaiming that a family member served in World War II.
“Art work is everywhere here,” says Leeds. This includes in “Ray’s Room” – the words surrounded by a gold frame over a doorway leading to a gallery behind the front counter. Officially opened in August 2013 two years after Ray Leeds, the beloved founder of the business – and father to Arleen – died at age 97, the gallery stands as a loving tribute to his life and talent.
Among the First Bellmore Stores
“My father was wonderful. Everybody loved him,” says Leeds. “He opened this property in 1945 as ABCO Plastic and Neon Signs. Only old, old, old people will remember that. Before that he was down the street at 423 [Sunrise Highway] and nothing else was here. His was the first business on the block, as he called it.” For Ray, the block was Sunrise Highway stretching from Bellmore Avenue to Thomas Place.
As a commercial artist, Ray did all of the Pepsi Cola signs on Long Island, a deal that was sealed with a handshake and lasted over 25 years. In addition to the ABCO sign mounted on the store at 411 East Sunrise Highway, Leeds knows of at least one other sign still on display at Nu Merit Electric in Freeport constructed by Ray.
In 1945, when Ray was made an offer by a friend to purchase the land stretching from their store to the corner of Sunrise and Bellmore Avenue for $2000, he unfortunately couldn’t afford it. “My dad had scraped together all the money he had and borrowed a little from his own father…to buy this property.” Now, Arby’s and 7-11 occupy that space he was once offered.
Ray Leeds started ABCO Art Supplies and Custom Framing for his wife, Selma, to run after their children had grown older. Originally a physical education teacher and homemaker, Selma managed the store while Ray continued with his nearby sign business. “People used to come in just to talk to her. She was a very sweet woman,” says Leeds.
Eventually, Leeds’ brother, Ronald, joined in after graduating college and serving three years in the Peace Corps. He died unexpectedly at the age of 52.
Now Leeds runs the business along with one part-time employee. She has worked on and off at ABCO since 1969, when she completed her master’s degree at Hofstra University. An art teacher in the Seaford School District for 28 ½ years, she retired in 2004.
In the ABCO workroom, an eclectic mix of high-tech tools of the trade stand alongside older, well-maintained pieces of equipment Ray once used in his sign shop. Neatly printed on Post-Its taped about are reminders from Ray about how to properly use a tool or measure precisely. Leeds points them out, saying, “Everywhere I look I have reminders of dad looking out for me.”
While memories of all types are preserved at ABCO, Leeds still looks to the future and expanding Ray’s gallery. “I very much plan on having art shows here starting next year. I already have a few artists I know in mind.”
For more information on ABCO, check them out online at www.ABCOArt.com.