Maureen Ceccarelli has decided to retire. At the end of January, the longtime pillar of South Park's business and arts community will close the doors of her adjacent Beech Street storefronts, Studio Maureen & The Next Door Gallery, after 29 years.
Ceccarelli opened the connected gift shop, art studio, and gallery space long before South Park was the family-friendly, boutique-loving neighborhood it is today. She moved to the neighborhood in the early '80s and originally opened the shop in 1987 as the studio for an eponymous line of jewelry.
2963 Beech Street, Golden Hill
(No longer in business.)
"I mostly used it as a workspace," she recalls. "The retail space was invitation-only. We'd do special evening events to get people to come, because there was no other retail on the block. People would have to ring the bell if they wanted to come in because it was kind of sketchy at that time."
Back then, she adds, Beech Street was primarily populated by commercial services, with the Circle 4 hardware store on one end of the block and Amy's Market on the other. "That was a little corner market that was kind of funky," Ceccarelli recalls. "They had a pay phone out in front, and sometimes I'd hear drug deals going down."
All of this contrasts starkly to current-day Beech Street, which has become a community hub kept lively by the presence of diners, dog walkers, yoga practitioners, neighborhood residents out for a stroll, and young students gathering after school from the nearby Albert Einstein Academy.
Sue Farris, a 28-year South Park resident, doesn't recall a time when Studio Maureen and Next Door Gallery weren't linchpins of the community. "I think she promoted the style of the neighborhood," Farris says of Ceccarelli, "because she started it."
Ceccarelli has also left a mark as a founding member of the South Park Business Group and for the past decade has acted as director of the Old House Fair, the annual festival held to celebrate the neighborhood's historic homes. But among Ceccarelli's fondest legacies has been promoting arts within the community, whether by hosting workshops or by providing a space to showcase hundreds of local artists over the years.
"The really cool thing has been all the people coming in and saying how much the store has meant to them," she says, "how much I've meant to them through the years." Scores of customers and friends have scribbled thank-you notes to Ceccarelli on a retirement notice she posted at the door to the shop, and parents have told her they still cherish the gifts their now-grown children made for them at workshops in her studio.
"I had a really nice letter from somebody saying, 'You might not remember me, but you were the first one who let me know I could sell my art, and that made all the difference,'" Ceccarelli says with a smile. "That warmed my heart."
She closes the shop with no regrets. "My husband retired a year and a half ago," she points out. "He's been having a blast, all this time. I'm, like, 'It's my turn, I want to do this too!'"
Ceccarelli says she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years ago. While she will continue to create ceramic, mosaic tile, and punch tin art in a home studio, she's looking forward to having more free time to pursue a bucket-list item: visiting all the national parks.
"I'm using exercise and meditation to handle my [Parkinson's] symptoms," she says. "I'm in great shape, so I want to do fun stuff while I can."
First up: hiking trips to Death Valley and Yosemite, where she'll likely follow the old hiker's creed to leave a place better than you found it...as Ceccarelli has done in South Park.