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The Drunken Palette in New London to close at the end of February

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New London — The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt blow after blow to The Drunken Palette, a BYOB art studio that was ahead of the curve on the paint-and-sip industry when it opened downtown a decade ago.

The shop is closing at the end of February.

"It's been a long journey, and I'm really sad to see it go," owner Felicia Stevens said. "It definitely feels like an early retirement, and it's no less words than heartbreaking."

Stevens said since The Drunken Palette is a gathering place, the impact of the pandemic was instant. But she pivoted, staying busy by offering take-home art kits and taking on private parties.

While other businesses didn't see the impact of supply chain issues and rising prices until further into the pandemic, the impact there was also instant for Stevens, considering lots of people were buying art supplies when they were stuck at home in the spring of 2020.

Stevens said she got $5,000 from the City of New London's Small Business Emergency Relief Grant program and a $4,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan, but her business didn't qualify for a lot of assistance — such as the Paycheck Protection Program — because employees are all contract artists.

"We work so sporadically, based on customer need," she said.

Stevens said before the pandemic, she had four to eight people working there, depending on the season — winter was busier — but now she has two.

There was a small resurgence in business last summer. But then Stevens found people were booking parties but canceling them last-minute, either because of COVID-19 exposure or getting sick.

Stevens, a Brooklyn native who served in the Navy in the early 2000s, moved to Connecticut in 2010 and started The Drunken Palette out of her previous home in Waterford. She moved into Spirit Gallery to test the viability of the business, and then operated out of 259 State St. before moving across the street to 310 State St. a couple years ago.

Asked about the impact of The Drunken Palette, Stevens said it brought "the confidence in creating art and the shift in that thought process" behind art. She added that "it went from unattainable and unaffordable to attainable and affordable," with classes running from about $25 to $55 per person.

A sign over the front desk serves as a counter for the number of visits she's had over the years: 48,162.

Those still looking to book a class before the end of February can view the calendar online at thedrunkenpalette.com.

Items in the store are 25% off, and pretty much everything in the studio is for sale, from art supplies to furniture. Stevens said those interested in making an appointment to look at items can contact her at thedrunkenpalette@yahoo.com.

Stevens said another Drunken Palette worker is going to try to continue mobile paint parties.

"Since COVID started, I kind of had an inkling it wasn't going to turn around," she said. So, she went back to school a little over a year ago to become an art therapist, and is doing a program through Lesley University.

She was hoping The Drunken Palette would last through the end of her studies, so she had work. Instead, she'll be picking up commission work on the side.

"It's scary to start over at 40," Stevens said, "but never too late."

e.moser@theday.com

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