We talked to: High Five Books & Art Always

We recently spoke to Lexi Walters Wright and Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owners of High Five Books & Art Always in Florence! We are overjoyed to welcome them as part of Florence's thriving, creative business community.

How long have High Five and Art Always been open? What made you want to open a store in Florence?

We’ve been open for a few weeks now, and just had our grand opening last Friday, which was a big success and an incredibly fun and inspiring. This space was once the local dry cleaner, and several people had told us we should check it out, thinking it could be ideal for us. When we finally did a walk-through, we just felt like it was the “right” space as soon as we entered. The landlord owner really did an amazing, thoughtful renovation job, and we felt it was completely applicable to our business model and aesthetic.

Lindsay had been operating Art Always in the Brushworks Arts & Industries building for 18 years, and Lexi recently switched careers, after working in publishing in for 20 years and making the long commute to and from the New York City on a regular basis. This collaboration just felt like the perfect situation for both of us, as we live in Florence with our families and wanted to provide a creative space for kids and adults alike to enjoy in the  neighborhood. We love that kids can walk and bike along the bike path and make this a new go-to spot and a kind of sanctuary. Our space allows folks to create, read, lounge, catch up with friends, enjoy snacks, and make memories. Parents with young kids are loving this as a place to bring their children on weekdays and weekends for a change of scene, to make art and work on their reading skills. And parents of older kiddos can feel comfortable knowing that their children are in a safe and welcoming space that is close to home and convenient.

What do you love/appreciate most about the business community in Florence?

The support and sense of community is unparalleled. We decided to collaborate while enjoying treats at the Pie Bar, and once we opened our space, Maura showed up with armfuls of pie to help us celebrate. People truly want to see each other thrive and succeed in this community, and we’re all true believers in how small businesses can transform a community. We’re grateful for our neighbors at Freckled Fox Cafe, Little Roots, Cycle Pottery, Kidstuff, Uya, The Hub, Artifact Cider Project, Full Circle Bike Shop and the forthcoming Seven Sisters Birth Center: They’ve welcomed us warmly.

And because we were forging relatively new territory by combining our businesses, it was very helpful to speak to other business owners to get suggestions. We received some great support and feedback from collaborative businesses such as Essentials and Workroom, plus A2Z and A Child’s Garden in Northampton—we feel lucky to be receiving just an overall sense of encouragement and enthusiasm from all the local business owners.

Here at the store, we focus on ways to make things as easy and stress-free as possible for both caregivers and kids, offering bike racks, stroller parking, refillable gift cards for snacks and books, and a potty seat and changing table in the restroom. High Five Books even has a text line where families can reach out to check on their teen kids dropping in, as well as with questions about books and classes.  [Note: (413) 200-0197]

What do you love/appreciate most about Florence/Northampton in general?

We love the small-town feel of this area, and we love both living and working here.
Lindsay grew up here, and really appreciates the slow pace and unique, old-timey style of the neighborhood. Lexi loves the sense of true community and the joy of being able to stop by Cooper’s Corner early in the morning for egg sandwiches and hash browns, then commute on foot to work. There’s just such a great family feeling to Florence and Northampton, and you feel like you have a village of other people who can relate to your experience and offer support and encouragement. And though Florence is a small town, it seems that lately there is more and more to do here. We love the idea that High Five Books and Art Always can now be another happy, inviting place for kids and adults to visit in this area.

What positive things do you see happening in Florence/Northampton?

We love that there are so many women-owned businesses and such a sense of change, growth, and vitality. We truly appreciate that in this area,  female business owners support and encourage each other, offering suggestions when needed, compassion, and friendship.

Are there any upcoming events you are excited about, either in Florence/Northampton in general or at the store?

We just had our grand opening, and there was an incredible turnout—about 250-300 people showed up! The Expandable Brass Band kept the whole night feeling festive.  We felt so supported, loved, and welcomed.

We have some amazing art classes coming up [schedule at art-always.com], as well as book launches for local authors—one for Deanna F. Cook’s Cooking Class Global Feast on 10/26, one for Marion Abrams and Hilary Emerson Lay’s book Art Sparks on 11/9 and one for illustrator Cynthia Alonso’s book, The Reader on 11/16.

At our bi-weekly Thursday night story hour, we’ve also had some local figures read to kids: In October, Mayor Narkewicz and School Committee At-Large Candidate Kate Cardoso. Next up is Brooke Hauser, editor-in-chief of The Daily Hampshire Gazette on 11/7. [More calendar info: highfivebooks.org]

Throughout the year, Art Always will continue to offer kids’ and adult art classes, summer and vacation camps, and—coming this winter—art openings on the first Friday of every month. You can even book children’s birthday parties with us, and we’ll tailor the events to suit your family’s needs. We feel so lucky to be part of this community of awesome caretakers and kids!

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