The Artist’s Daughter, opened in January 1986 by Ann Empie Groves, has been one of the most successful mainstays over the past 30 years in Tubac.
In fact, just seven of the 28 gift shops and galleries that were doing business in 1986 are still open, she has calculated. Variety and great customer service may be the reasons for Groves’ success.
The Artist’s Daughter sells Western and old-fashioned items, some original and others reproductions. Her self-described “little store” is full of items that nurture nostalgia. She has rugged wood signs, tin signs and vintage porcelain signs including those for Route 66, gas and oil service, railroads and tractors.
Among the items she sells are antique tin boxes and cans, recipe books, Western cookie cutters, enamel ware dishes, rope cowboy wreaths, Texas hold ‘em playing cards and cowboy boot birdhouses.
Also, Western music CDs, wrought iron metal door handles, buckskin doll outfits, western bandanas, denim clothes, cowboy hats, Hal Empie cowboy mugs, and Empie Kartoon Kards.
She’s stocked the same popular hummingbird feeders for 28 years, and was the first in the village to offer Tubac license plates for the front bumper of autos.
The Empie Kartoon Kards were why the store was launched. Next door, her father, Hal Empie, an acclaimed Arizona painter of Western scenes, opened his gallery and studio in 1984.
Several years before that, she said she “registered the name ‘The Artist’s Daughter’ (because) every time I would go to a one-man show with my dad, they would say, ‘and this is the artist’s daughter.’”
After her own career in travel and retail, she said, “I decided to put Dad’s postcards back on the market. He had a line of Empie cartoon cards started in 1934. They were still selling when I took it over. He said, ‘Why don’t you let me build you a little place down here to keep your postcards.’ So they added the building I’m in and that was going to be my warehouse for my postcards.”
It wasn’t a warehouse for long. She admits, “I got a little carried away and I started The Artist’s Daughter.”
However, before choosing her inventory, she surveyed the village. “What I did first was, I walked all over town. I looked to see what other people were selling because I believe in ‘the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.’”
She values diversity. “I believe if we have anything like anyone else, it hurts the whole village. So I looked around and saw that no one was carrying what I had planned on carrying and I opened my store in January 1986.”
Groves was a flight attendant for American Airlines in her 20s and among the highlights, remembers that she flew two Presidential White House charters for President Lyndon Johnson. She then moved on to retail work at the Dallas Gift Mart, managing two showrooms and managing an art showroom at the World Trade Center in Dallas, along with being a retail store manager in Dallas.
“My store has been very successful, and a good part of that is being located next to Hal Empie Gallery,” managed by her husband Peter, “because we’re kind of a package, and I carry all of his cartoon cards.” Hal Empie died in 2002 at the age of 93.
Groves said customers enjoy browsing in her shop because of the selection offered. “My philosophy is that you pretty much have to have something for everyone, a price range for everyone. They like a large variety and I have kept my price point affordable.”
Another element that’s fueled her business for nearly 30 years is good customer service which includes saying hello and making eye contact with visitors. “You can wait on a whole room of people,” she contends.
“If you’re busy and the store is full, if you make eye contact with the person and say ‘I’ll be right with you’ and smile, they’ll wait all day. But you have to greet everyone that comes in and thank everyone that leaves,” she said.
Karen Wilson, a friend, said, “I had the pleasure to work with Ann and her husband a few years ago in building their unique and lovely home. She was creative and very involved in detail, knowing how she wanted to incorporate her family’s Arizona history and art collections in the design. Although not a painter, she is a true artist herself in many ways.”
The Artist’s Daughter has been written about in many publications, Groves said. “Most recently was a magazine from Japan, and they featured my store in four pages. We were featured on Arizona Highways television a couple of years ago and they’re still re-running it.”
A 1997 movie, “Vanishing Point,” starring Viggo Mortensen had scenes filmed at her shop, which was transformed into a gas station, she said. A few of the celebrities who have shopped at her place included Diane Keaton, Mark Harmon, Pam Dawber, Jane Russell, Will Rogers Jr., Rex Allen, Sam Elliott, and Sons of the Pioneers member Sonny Spencer.
Some gallery and shop owners are dismayed that Tubac’s busy season is only Jan. 1 to April or May. But Groves has always included that in her annual business plan. “There’s nothing to complain about. Tubac is seasonal. If we were a ski resort and there were no snow, we would have no people. It’s part of the charm of the village, to be seasonal.
“I always say to the new people in town, ‘You have to look at the end of the year, not the end of the day’” to determine the strength of sales.
She’s an art show judge and gives talks on art and history, most recently at the Tucson Museum of Art, University of Arizona College of Pharmacy and a history symposium at Eastern Arizona Community College in Thatcher.
“What I do for the gallery and my dad is very fulfilling. I particularly enjoy the art part, giving talks. I don’t feel that I missed any kind of a boat.”
Groves likes to chat with her customers. When asked about some of the most frequent comments, she said she hears: “Thank goodness, something different,” along with “We’re back to see you. Glad you’re still here. We come every year.”