Joe Huffer’s Paint Shop Interview
by Matthew J
What is Joe Huffer’s Paint Shop all about? What is your mission statement?
Joe Huffer’s Paint Shop opened for business on July 2nd, 2010 with one goal: to be a graffiti store for graffiti writers. We saw what the stores we used to go to did, and wanted to improve on that wherever we could. This meant trying to keep stock levels (especially for colours like black and white) as consistent as possible and keeping prices as low as possible. The realities of retail and dealing with imports have made stock levels something we’re always working on improving, but our paint prices haven’t gone up once since we opened. We always avoid fancy bullshit that writers don’t really care about, like a pretty store front, nice floors, or cool lighting because that helps us keep our prices low, which is more important to us than looking a certain way.
This next question is asked countless time, yet the answer is always a different one: I’m curious to know, what does graffiti mean to you?
As a graffiti store we have an obvious interest in people doing graffiti as much as possible, and it doesn’t really matter to us how they do it or why, as long as it doesn’t fuck with us in any way. Graffiti to us is and always has been about letters. Your style, technique, etc. can be as crazy as you want, but you can’t lose your letters. At the end of the day though, graffiti is just about doing graffiti, however, wherever, and whenever you want to do it, regardless of what us or anyone else has to say. Just don’t be a toy about it.
Describe a typical day in the office.
A day working at the shop usually consists of a few visits from friends, a few kids looking for (and finding!) deals, a couple artsy types wanting to try their hand at spray paint tagging, some curious passers-by visiting our neighbours down the hall, a dash of graff politics, some internet videos, maybe some art or design work, some local Chinatown or Kensington Market cuisine, and a lot of aerosol fumes.
I just want to take a few moments to focus on some specifics surrounding your city. First, how would you describe Toronto’s graffiti scene?
Toronto’s graffiti scene is stylistically diverse and thriving, with writers across the spectrum from all-city bombers to stylemaster piecers, and everywhere in between. The scene is a little younger and maybe a little smaller than some other cities, but has plenty of talented writers. Like every city with a graffiti scene, the way people do graffiti is largely based on the actual physical form of the city. We’re lucky here because Toronto has a bit of everything and not one type of spot or way of painting graff dominates the scene entirely, which has allowed it to be as diverse as it is.
Second question: What role does Joe Huffer’s Paint Shop play specifically in the growth and maintenance of TO’s scene?
We’re here to sell paint and other graffiti supplies to the city’s writers for the best prices we can. Obviously it’s in our best interest business-wise to have the scene grow, both in terms of size and quality, but we’re not in this to get rich on the backs of writers so we try to give back to the community by selling zines, art, and other writer-made stuff on fair split consignment, as well as sponsoring events, walls, etc. when we can. We get a lot of up-and-coming writers in the shop too, and we’re always happy to share a bit of advice with them, within reason of course (some stuff you have to learn on your own kids!).
Third and final question dealing specifically with Toronto’s graff scene; one of the most unique and lively spots, hands down, is the Spadina region. It seems to embody a lot of what graffiti is “supposed to represent”. In your opinion, what makes Spadina such a great location? And how does it add to Joe Huffer’s aura?
Spadina is like the unofficial graffiti district of the city. Pretty much any Chinatown you go to in North America is like that. There’s something about the griminess of the streets, the diversity of the people and food – Chinatown just has more character than a lot of other places in the city, and writers seem to be drawn to that. We located our shop as close to Spadina as we could for that reason, and we were lucky enough to eventually find a spot right in the heart of it at our current location just north of Dundas. We have a strong connection with Chinatown, both in terms of the business as well as personally, so we really try to represent that whenever we can through aspects of the shop’s look etc.
Back to the business side of things: What quality or trait do you feel best reflects your company’s success?
If there’s one quality or trait that’s helped us be as successful as we’ve been it’s probably that we aren’t greedy. We don’t charge more than we need to for what we sell just for the sake of making more money. Gouging people is wack.
Aside from offering your clientele fair rates on products, what, in terms of building a solid reputation, would you say has been integral to Joe Huffer’s success?
There’s no one thing that really impacts a store’s reputation, but if we have a good one it’s because over the last 5 years we have stuck to the principles we outlined earlier. We don’t think we’re better than anyone, and don’t think anyone owes us anything, so we treat our customers with respect as long as they do the same. Nobody likes people, or businesses, with shitty attitudes.
For the readers living outside of Toronto, do you offer an online shop? And if so, where can people reach you?
People can shop with us online for paint, caps, markers, ink, clothes, DVDs, books, art, etc. at www.joehuffers.com. All prices are in Canadian dollars, and we ship from Toronto.
Last question. Where do you see your company growing in the next five years? What big plans are in store for Joe Huffer’s Paint Shop?
We’re always looking to improve and grow so we’re working on a few ideas right now for how we can improve the shop space to better serve our customers, but nothing is set in stone. We’re also planning on getting more involved in events and art shows over the next little while to get back to the vibe we had going the first couple years we were open.
Shout out to our loyal customers, shout out to our homies in Toronto and around the world, shout out to our various suppliers, shout out to our future customers, a special shout out to all those who recommend us to their international connections when they come to visit, shout out to bahn mi sandwiches and Chinese buns, shout out to the liquor store, shout out to the dudes that drive the trucks that deliver our shipments, shout out to the internet, and last but not least shout out to all those who write. Keep spraying.