It was a different Duval Street on a different island in a different world when Richard Heyman opened a fine art gallery 40 years ago in Key West.
The world had just watched the resignation of a president. Hank Aaron had tied The Babe's home run record and Mia Farrow graced the cover of the very first People magazine when Gingerbread Square Gallery hosted its very first exhibition of Key West native Sal Salinero's paintings.
That was 1974 and the gallery, named for the abundance of gingerbread trim on surrounding buildings, was located in the 900 block of Duval Street just as Northerners were starting to migrate south to a tiny island outpost; just as design-minded men were buying and restoring old buildings. opening guest houses and living lives they hadn't thought possible in other regions.
"Exhibition openings at Gingerbread Square were true happenings in town," said Jeff Birn, who bought the gallery from Heyman with his partner Salinero, in 1994. "The gallery has always been a community asset, and not just a business."
That community asset this year celebrates 40 years of fine art, always on Duval Street.
Gingerbread Square started in the 900 block, moved across the street once and then to its current location at 1207 Duval St. in the 1990s.
"Our main focus has always been paintings, although we also represent jewelers, sculptors and glass artists," Birn said. "Most of our artists are local artists with some national and international acclaim, and all of them either have lived in Key West or have some connection to the island."
"Obviously, we would be nothing without the artists -- and our clients," he said.
Forging those connections between creator and customer is the key to an art gallery's success, and Gingerbread Square values its 3,000-person mailing list and the personal relationships it has with its collectors.
"I'd say fully half of our sales are to Key West locals and snowbirds," he said. "Because we provide good art and good service while looking our for our artists and clients. "Just because someone hasn't bought something in two years doesn't mean we take them off our list and write them off. We've enmeshed ourselves in the community and we pay attention to what people like."
And the tastes of buyers in Key West don't always match those in New York or Boston, Birn said.
"Often, work that sells incredibly well in New York and Boston won't do well here, and that's just a difference in the atmosphere and attitudes of Key West."
The gallery will host another of its legendary community events Friday evening.
The 40th Anniversary Season Opening Gala will take place at 5 p.m. Friday at the gallery. It will feature a champagne reception and holiday treats.
For information, visit gingerbreadsquaregallery.com