When she's working in her custom-framing gallery shop, Rebecca Sommer doesn't need a watch to know the time.

"All I have to do is look out the front window" at the big clock across the street in front of Grove City Hall, 4035 Broadway.

The time has flown for Sommer, who has operated Sommer House Gallery and Co. for 25 years at 4038 Broadway in Grove City's Town Center.

"It's hard to believe it's been 25 years," said Sommer, 68, who has worked at the location even longer.

She was an employee when the storefront housed Tree House Gallery and opened her own business when that gallery closed, founding it in 1986, she said.

Intricacies of framing

Custom framing is more complex than people might realize, Sommer said.

Frames come in a rainbow of colors and a medley of styles, she said, and more than 1,000 options are arrayed on one of the gallery's walls.

"Framing is a very intricate process," Sommer said. "If you're off just a hair, the frame's not going to fit the picture, or the picture's going to be off-kilter."

She currently has no other employees. At times, she has had people on staff, and she is planning to hire someone in the fall, she said.

She said her goal is to help the customer find the style and color of frame that is most appropriate for the document or picture they are preserving.

"I ask them questions about why the picture is significant to them and why they want to have it framed," Sommer said. "Most people have a general idea of what they're looking for. I help them find it" among the selection of frames.

"Each project is different, and each person is different," she said.

Every job is special because the item is important to the customer, she said.

"It's something that has some sentimental value or real value to them," Sommer said. "There's a story behind each customer's request."

"The saddest assignment I had came from a lady who had given birth to twins," she said. "They died before she even left the hospital. It was so sad to hear."

The woman asked Sommer to frame her twins' birth hats.

"She wanted something that would help her other children understand why their mom felt so sad," she said. "You don't forget."

It isn't difficult for Sommer to remember many of the assignments she's had over the years, she said.

"I don't keep my records on computers," she said. "I write out by hand the details of each assignment, and I've kept them all. It's just easier to make the special notations and do the drawings by hand.

"When I look through all the old orders, it's fun because I usually can remember the people and what they brought in and why it was important to them," Sommer said.

Usually, the assignment is a happy one, whether it's a diploma, a family photo or a picture a customer's child has drawn, she said.

"Then you'll have someone bring in something that really makes you stop and think," Sommer said.

One man brought in a bill of sale that had been drawn up by an ancestor in the 19th century, she said.

"Along with the wheelbarrows and tools, it also listed African American slaves," Sommer said. "That really was jarring -- these were human beings put on a list like they were objects.

"I never know what someone may be bringing when they walk in," she said. "That variety makes it fun to come to work each day."

Business expansion

Customers are likely to find things they don't expect when they visit Sommer House Gallery.

Over the years, Sommer has expanded her business to include selling old furniture she has restored. The business also has a mercantile section featuring Taza Chocolate, candles from Beaver Creek Candle Co., certified Christmas bells from Ohio Bell Meister and Stoer Farm Market honey.

"About two years ago, I was having to decide whether to move to another location after the rent went up, and so I decided to create a mercantile section as a way to bring in more revenue and stay put," she said.

The front of the store is filled with furniture she has obtained at estate sales and consignment shops and refurbished in a process Sommer calls "re-charming."

"I'm looking for interesting antique pieces or furniture that is unique," she said. "If it's interesting to me, I figure other people are going to be interested."

Other store wares include home decor, old Life magazines and hand-crafted greeting cards.

Items are arrayed from floor to ceiling throughout the retail area of the business.

"Some people walk in and they aren't ready for all of this. They're just expecting a custom-framing shop," Sommer said. "But for most people, it's a treasure hunt, because they never know what they're going to find.

"We're always bringing in new things and that makes it fun for me," she said. "It's my own treasure hunt."

The back portion of the storefront houses the workshop where Sommer completes her assignments.

The gallery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

"I like to say that we're here 'often later, seldom earlier,' " Sommer said. "I start working in the back and the hours go by."

Over the past three years Sommer has helped design the decor for the 3 Brothers Diner, a Mexican-American fusion restaurant at 3090 Southwest Blvd. in Grove City.

"She's been really great to work with," said Irving Cruz, a manager at the restaurant and the son of Eliseo Cruz Reyes, one of the three brothers from Oaxaca, Mexico, who opened the diner. The other brothers are Niva and Rila Cruz Reyes.

"Rebecca's come up with so many great ideas for the decor of our restaurant that fit in with our idea of what we wanted," he said.

"She's doing everything from helping us with the decorations to designing the bar and even the electrical fixtures that hold the light bulbs."

Sommer has captured the brothers' desire to create a "hometown" feel in their restaurant that mixes Mexican and American culture and avoids a "chain restaurant" look, Cruz said.

"I've really enjoyed the creative challenge of creating the decor for the restaurant," Sommer said.

"I'm not looking to get into the restaurant-design business, but it's a fun sideline."

Sommer, who lives near the Town Center, said it's a great location in which to live and own her business.

"My doctor, my dentist and all these great restaurants and my store are all within walking distance from my home," she said.

Events like the city's Christmas celebration and the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce's farmers market are a perfect fit for the gallery, Sommer said.

"People look in our window, and they're really interested to come in and see what we have to offer," she said.

The gallery also offers frame repairs, glass replacement for framed pictures, chair recaning and minor furniture-repair services.

More information is available at shgalleryco.com.

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