ARTpool has become a "multi-faceted art animal," says co-owner Marina Williams, 27. Its growth is due in no small part to Williams' remarkable partnership with her mother, Becky, 66. From ARTpool's inception as a tiny storefront on First Avenue North to its current incarnation as a combination gallery/event space/vintage boutique/café in a massive space formerly occupied by an auto repair shop on Central, Becky has been on the scene, displaying the same tireless work ethic, smart business sense and quirky sense of style as her daughter.
They were a team way before ARTpool, when Marina helped out by answering the phone (at 5 years old) in her mother's real estate office. After graduating from New College and getting an MFA at the University of East London, she returned to her native St. Pete with visions of starting a grassroots gallery and party space like the ones she'd seen in London, and ARTpool was born in 2008.
As anyone who's ever met Marina can testify, she has a knack for assembling sundry items into a look that is distinctly her own — and her mother's. "My daughter dresses me," says Becky, and Marina in turn calls Becky her "greatest fashion inspiration." Just their eyeware alone tells a story: "I decided if I had to wear it I'm going to have fun with it," says Becky, and her daughter has followed suit.
In fact, it was Becky who inspired Marina to expand her business into vintage wear. "Mom said, 'Bring in one rack of vintage and see what people say,'" says Marina, and now it's a vital part of the business.
The two of them partnered on selecting and purchasing the new building, too. The complex, which has housed (in addition to the auto repair shop) a Fred Astaire dance studio, a church and a Polish restaurant, is more than six times as large as the previous space, and required a great deal of sweat equity to get it into shape. "Pure grease and filth," says Marina. "Oh my golly." But they did it — purchased the property in September, opened it in December of last year — and Marina is full of plans for expansion, including sales of housewares and furnishings and the opening of ARTpool Cafe projected for November. Becky loves the new place, especially its "fantastic" display windows — she claims she's heard cars braking when drivers stop to see what's on display.
Marina, an only child, gets some of her sense of adventure from her father, an anesthetist with a love of the water (hence the name "Marina"). "My husband brought a boat across the Atlantic by himself," says Becky. Marina also gets support from her partner Evan Williams (they just happen to have the same last name). But it's she and her mother who are the heart of ARTpool, and, surprisingly for any business partners — especially for a mother and daughter? — they're a mutual admiration society.
"I'm very grateful that I was born to her," says Marina.
"I'm the lucky one," says her mom.
They have their disagreements — they're yin and yang, they say — but Marina says they always talk things out and never make decisions without talking to each other. "You can never go to bed unhappy."