Wyss: Morry, tell me what made you feel that Toronto needed a store dedicated to car books?
Barmak: It is more a gallery than a bookstore. I sell mostly out-of-print books. Let me start out with how I started. Honestly I was young and fresh out of university, I wasn't sure that particular need existed, I only knew that I loved cars and hoped I could make a career out of my passion. My first location was across from the original Four Seasons Hotel, so I knew at the onset that I would be chasing a global audience.
Wyss Would I be remiss if I conclude in the cold winter months it gives car people time to read the books and see the videos about cars?
Barmak: It is unfortunate that our climate prohibits most Canadians to get a full year of use out of most sports cars – so in effect we do have more time to enjoy the hobby in other ways such as collecting model cars or literature.
Wyss: Do the car hobbyists in Canada pretty much echo the car hobbyists in the U.S., i.e. musclecar fans, sports car fans, classic prewar car fans, etc.
Barmak: My target demographic is mostly international collectors of European vintage and exotic sports cars. In 2016 over 90% of my sales were shipped out of country, so I can't really speak to the Canadian pulse as the truly large car collectors exist elsewhere. That being said, there is a growing niche of gearheads in Toronto and Canada, and the most recent trend I have seen both here and in the USA is towards collecting Porsches (1980s and newer) as well as McLaren.
Wyss: When did you first stock fine art, and did it take a while to elevate customers from the low cost thin paper poster to "fine art?"
Barmak: I opened the gallery in 1991 and started carrying fine art a few years later. I aligned with Jay Koka, Gavin MacLeod and some local artists at the start. Most car collectors understand and appreciate fine art, although there is a price ceiling as to what they will spend on it.
Wyss: What fine artists are you stocking now, and how much of the work is hung on the wall and how much in bins where you can flick through a lot of them?
Barmak: I have hundreds of original paintings, limited edition prints, canvas giclees and vintage posters from all of the big artists ranging from Geo Ham to Nicholas Watts to Alfredo de la Maria. Around 150 pieces are showing and the rest are in bins on several of the levels.
Wyss: Have you had artists make an appearance, signing works, at your store, and if so what artists have come so far and which are expected in the near future?
Barmak: In the 1990s and early 2000s I used to have Gavin MacLeod come to sign prints and meet clients, as well as a host of drivers ranging from Paul Tracy to Alex Zanardi. I get famous artists, drivers and celebrities in all the time, but typically don't alert my clients as to their appearances.
Wyss: What do you think the limit is on fine art, price wise? I mean I have seen $20,000+ pricetags on original paintings at the AFAS tent in Pebble Beach. I know regular art galleries have prices in those ranges, but do you think it's a matter of educating the audience before those kinds of prices are paid for automotive art?
Barmak: I have found that US$30,000 is pretty much the ceiling for an automotive themed painting or sculpture. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, no matter how rich the client or how valuable his car is, there is a limit to what they will pay for automotive-themed pieces.
Wyss: In fine art, what are you selling? Prints on art paper? Sculptures? Canvas giclee prints? Original oil paintings?
Barmak: I sold a ton of prints in the 1990s and 2000s, mostly driver-signed, but that trend has slowed a lot. Nowadays I sell more originals and a lot of canvas giclees which give the look and feel of an original for a fraction of the price. I also stock and move a lot of vintage posters – such as 1930s Monaco GP and 1950 & 1960s Le Mans originals.
Wyss: Can you give directions to tell visitors to Toronto how to find your store?
Barmak: Our new gallery (we moved over 4 years ago to a much larger facility) is directly across from the Four Seasons Hotel, at 72 Scollard St. in Yorkville. www.collectorstudio.com
Barmak can be reached at email@example.com