Artist Jeff Beck began Urban Grinders with the desire of opening his own art gallery.
Today Urban Grinders is known as a coffee shop, but its heart and goals have always been in its gallery. The coffee shop was Beck’s idea to fund the gallery.
“I knew that art galleries struggle with making money to pay rent so we need some other element in the art gallery to be a continuous stream of money,” said Beck. “I was really into coffee and the coffee culture. It seemed a natural fit was to have a coffee shop.
“What I tell people is we are an art gallery with a coffee shop inside because we focus more on the art than the coffee. We spend a lot of time making the coffee really good but the main focus is art here.”
Urban Grinders, located at 116 N. Elm St. in Downtown Greensboro, is now about a year old. The shops bright murals and selling of spray paint may be a clue to the art gallery theme: street and urban art. To Beck, street and urban art is rawer than an oil painting or still life.
“We have a lot of galleries in Greensboro and they tend to do more fine art,” said Beck. “The urban street art is the kind of artwork that I love and I thought there wasn’t a dedicated space for that.”
Beck’s love of street art isn’t just shown in Urban Grinders. He is the co-founder of No Blank Walls in Greensboro.
“I’m really big into the street art and mural community so bringing it inside to the gallery just made sense,” said Beck.
The main gallery of Urban Grinders is upstairs. The gallery is typically for solo artists and is booked until the middle of next year. Beck is trying to do one artist downstairs and one upstairs to keep the business simpler.
“So either I’ll hand select people that I really like their art, I’ll contact them and see if they want to show or they just come to us and want to show stuff,” said Beck. “We switch every month. We always have a reception on First Friday of every month for the new show.”
Art is also celebrated in Urban Grinders’ events. Local bands often play on Friday and Saturday nights. They do live events such as live painting or an art battle competition. Every third Saturday, Urban Grinders hosts a DIY Black Market where artists and crafters come and sell their wares.
“As far as artists go, they’ve really opened up to this place,” said Beck. “The artists don’t feel like it’s a coffee shop. We have them bring their stuff in, we hang it properly and we light it properly just like an art gallery would.”
Beck is hoping to break the stigma of hanging artwork in a coffee shop.
“We try to promote it as an arts gallery with a coffee shop inside it,” he said. “There are not people sitting in front of the art. We really are trying to break the mold that it’s okay to mingle two things together. You don’t have to just go to a white wall art gallery to enjoy art.”
If the artists want to sell their art through the gallery, Urban Grinders does a 70-30 percent split with the artist.
“A lot of galleries are 40 or 50 percent on their cut so we try to not make that as high,” said Beck. “As an artist myself, you’d have to make your prices higher and that makes it harder to sell so we try to do it as fairly as we can in terms of making a split with the artist.”
Beck’s goal for the future is to make sure the art of Urban Grinders is taken seriously.
“I would really like Urban Grinders to be known as a cool art venue,” said Beck. “When people see Urban Grinders is going to have an art show, they’ll know it’s going to be different, cool, and it’ll make people want to come here.
“I always say I like to bring a little New York down to Greensboro. I’m not from New York, but I love the art scene in New York. That’s what I try to do. I try to bring that kind of art scene to Greensboro in any way I can.”