By Lucia Viti
Community-inspired murals to enliven Barons Market décor
Barons Market is gearing up to open its North Park store by Thanksgiving, and will be treating shoppers to organic, natural and specialty food along with the pride of local artwork.
Amy Baca Lopez of North Park is one of five local artists chosen by Barons to create custom murals in the grocery store and parking garage. Baca Lopez is showcasing a color fest painted on a four-sided, 9-foot-wide, 20-foot-high column towering inside the store.
Barons hosted a small gathering of local media on Oct. 26 to show off Baca Lopez’s work and served whisky cocktails crafted by a West Coast Tavern mixologist using specialty balsamic vinegar mixes that will be sold at Barons.
Baca Lopez was awarded $2,000, plus the cost of supplies, to paint a mural that illustrates North Park’s kinship for community.
The idea for painting the mural was born from the “big, ugly column in the middle of the store that we didn’t know what to do with,” said Rachel Shemirani, Barons Market vice president of marketing, who attended the sneak preview. “We decided on art to reflect the community in the store design as we do in all of our locations. And North Park, an urban, artistic, vibrant, small-business friendly, foodie community, is filled with amazing street art.”
Calls for local artists to “craft lasting artwork” that would underscore the market’s vision to cultivate community through art and food were made through local news outlets, social media and the Barons Market website. Much to Shemirani’s surprise, almost 40 artists applied. “We were shocked at the overwhelming response,” she said.
A Facebook tag had alerted Baca Lopez. “Applying was a no-brainer,” she said. “I sent a resume, a cover letter and five samples of my work, one that included oversized orange slices.”
A committee that included the store owners, the marketing team and its retail designers vetted artistic samples and cover letters. “Narrowing the choices proved to be difficult because art is so subjective,” Shemirani said. “The committee roughly picked the same artists drawing upon the pulse of their art.”
Baca Lopez was a seamless decision for everyone, Shemirani said. “We love people who love food so we knew we had to meet Amy,” she added. “Her application letter told us that even in college she tied stories of spanakopita or extraordinary orange juice into her writing assignments.”
Baca Lopez described her interview with the committee as a synergistic mix of people on the same wavelength. “We were all on cloud nine. They showed me the wall and said, ‘This is yours. Go for it!’”
Baca Lopez did just that, painting an explosion of “bright, cheerful and colorful” fruits, birds of paradise, a bicycle, a scooter, neighborhood scenes, a woman walking a dog, a map shape of California and “lots of happy phrases.”
“I painted larger-than-life orange slices high enough to look like the sun and the moon shining in the sky and built the mural from there,” she said. “Nothing says North Park like a Bird of Paradise, and I added a bicycle to add even more to the neighborhood spirit.”
The self-described “artist ever since I was born” did not disappoint the Barons team. The committee quickly opted to sacrifice retail space and eliminate a wine display originally intended to sidle the top of the column so Baca Lopez could paint up to the apex.
“I paint what makes me happy,” she said. “It’s fascinating to watch people connect with my art. This morning, the Markets owner Joe gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you.’ That was awesome.”
Baca Lopez is no stranger to recognition. The New Mexico native was awarded a key to the city of Albuquerque for a “bunch of good deeds” performed during her tenure as a graphic artist that included the Zipper project — a walk and ride map along Historic Route 66, Albuquerque’s central corridor. Zipper educated and encouraged residents to shop locally, to utilize public transportation, and to participate with cultural services and museum associations. Baca Lopez attributes the Zipper project as her connection to the “essence and energy” of the Barons Market column mural.
The Barons Market committee also met with four other artists to further expand the grocery’s artistic endeavor. “The overwhelming talent of the artists made us reconsider our initial plan to choose just one,” Shemirani added. “With incredible community support we expanded the scope of artwork to three separate murals to weave the very fabric of the community into the store.”
Baca Lopez has completed the first mural, while hand-lettering specialists Roxy Prima and Phoebe Cornog will work on a hallway, and VISUAL owners Jason Gould and Frieda Gould will transform a parking garage wall.
“Barons Markets evolve to reflect the community,” Shemirani said. “Nothing is ever cookie cutter. Décor is subtle and subliminal to create unique and interesting customer experiences while conveying who we are. Time, energy and love goes into store design, employee hiring and product selection. Releasing artistic control was scary but well-worth the risk. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
—Contact Lucia Viti at email@example.com.