The Art Of A Comeback

See how gallery owner Simone Dewey changed her tune and redesigned her life

Simone Dewey has always been able to navigate the detours that have sprung up along her life’s journey. In 1959, she answered an ad in The New York Times for a singing job, her true love, but was too late for the gig. She, instead, landed a position as a telex operator, and began a 33-year career in the telecommunications industry that spanned the operational end of the high-powered world of satellite and fiber-optic services.

After her youngest son died in a freak accident in 1976, Dewey, 60, took a step back to reevaluate her life. “My personal and professional life was not where I wanted it to be, so I pushed harder to establish myself in sales,” recalls Dewey. A maverick in an industry known for jealously guarding its old boy network, Dewey was pulling in six figures by 1993.

As director of sales and strategic accounts with PTT Telecom-Netherlands, a multinational telecommunications company with offices in the U.S., Dewey managed accounts for the likes of Xerox and Time Warner. Then, her career tanked. Dewey’s rapid-fire success at bagging large corporate accounts came under scrutiny by a new management team.

“Suddenly I was being criticized for how I handled my accounts, although there were no complaints from my clients,” Dewey remembers. She was forced to regroup.

In the 1980s, she had studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design and began decorating the homes of family and friends in her spare time. In the fall of 1993, at a trade convention hosted by TransDesigns, a Woodstock, Georgia-based multilevel marketing company specializing in interior design and art, Dewey decided to become an art seller. She invested the $10,000 needed to buy a TransDesigns franchise by maxing out her credit card. By the time Dewey mustered up seven orders, the company had gone belly-up, leaving her scrambling to complete the orders and recover her initial outlay.

After scouring the Yellow Pages and contacting artists, galleries, and custom framers to fill her orders, she recouped only $700 of her initial investment.

Fortunately, the experience enabled Dewey to make a number of important contacts. With a roster of prominent African American artists and art support services, Dewey officially launched Works of Art and custom framing as “a gallery on wheels” to service her growing and busy clientele.

Her six-year road show with the gallery on wheels saw revenues increase from $25,000 in 1994 to $50,000 in 1996. In 1998, revenues were close to $70,000. Her clientele extended as far as New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York, Long Island, and a major portion of Manhattan. Though Dewey resisted a bricks-and-mortar gallery, preferring the freedom and lower overhead of a van doubling as an art gallery, her clients encouraged her to set up a permanent shop.

In 1999, Dewey secured a $25,000 home equity loan and opened Simone’s Gallery Ltd. in Pelham, New York. The gallery showcases African American, Egyptian, Haitian, Asian, Native American, and European artwork. Dewey also exhibits one of the finest collections of Shona stone sculpture

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