The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

From design to reality

Aaron Vehling

After years of art classes at UW-Eau Claire, senior Anna Wojtanowicz, a graphic design major, became frustrated with the lack of an art supply store in Eau Claire. So she and a business partner made one of their own.

“You’ve got to take a leap every once in a while,” she said.

Benny HaHa Art Supply and Gallery, 204 S. Barstow St., opened for business on Sept. 2.

Wojtanowicz said the store’s name is a nickname she gave to her partner, Benny Haas, 23, when the two first met while working at the Green Mill Restaurant.

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The name was so catchy that she said it would be perfect for their store, and Haas agreed.

Haas, the distant cousin of former Eau Claire Chancellor Leonard Haas, was an art major, and while in high school he won the Eau Claire Regional Art Award.

Originally, while Haas and Wojtanowicz worked at the Green Mill Restaurant, they discussed the possibility of starting a Web site to display the artwork of undiscovered artists.

During the course of their discussions, Wojtanowicz came up with the idea of starting an art supply store with space to display artwork from local talent.

Haas encouraged Wojtanowicz to research the idea and see what would be possible.

“I told her to run with it and see what she came up with,” Haas said. “She did her homework.”

Wojtanowicz brought a business plan to Haas with information on potential customers and how the store would operate.

While working at a downtown restaurant, Haas said he noticed a space for rent across the street.

Wojtanowicz and Haas looked into the space and decided that it would become the future home of benny HaHa.

“The downtown area has a lot of potential, and the store has a lot of potential,” Wojtanowicz said.

As fast as a tornado, Haas said the idea began to come together.

“It seemed like the next day we were signing the lease,” he said.

During June, the two renovated the space with help from friends and co-workers from the Green Mill.

“We were pushing our Bob Villa book of carpentry to the max,” Haas said.

Walls were painted, the floor was tiled and the wood trim around the bottom of the walls was replaced with steel for a more “industrial” look.

Haas bankrolled the store, but as the bills rolled in and money went out, the stores co-owners used their artistic talents to beautify the store’s interior on a tight budget.

“We wanted it to look cool, but we didn’t have a lot of extra money,” Wojtanowicz said.

Traces of the duo’s artistic vision are strewn throughout the store, including a wall decoration made of extra floor tiles and a vase full of dried technicolor plants.

Senior Melissa Grissman visited the store during construction and after completion and said it has a bright and fun atmosphere.

Grissman, a ceramics major, said she hopes to display some of her work in the gallery part of benny HaHa.

The majority of the store’s clientele is art students, like Grissman, from Eau Claire.

“The support from the school has been just great,” Haas said.

Word of benny HaHa spread around campus and Wojtanowicz said whole classes of art students came in to buy their supplies at the store.

“It’s more affordable than the other options around here,” Grissman said.

The store has the bare-bones of supplies right now. For the time being, Haas said customers can request supplies, and the store will order them.

Aside from college art students, Haas said community members have filtered in due to curiosity, and local artists come in to commend the two on opening an art supply store in town.

Although Haas has managed multiple restaurants and owns a few Internet companies, neither he nor Wojtanowicz has ever embarked on an enterprise like benny HaHa.

The two entrepreneurs said they have promotions and ideas for expansion.

Haas said he plans to have a grand opening during the downtown International Festival on Sept. 20.

Wojtanowicz and Haas plan to take advantage of all the additional traffic on the street and put more artwork on display for festival attendees, she said.

Wojtanowicz and Haas hope to expand the store so there is a coffee and ice cream shop in the back of it, and someday they want to hold art classes there, she said.

“We’re exposing the community to art by submerging them in it.”

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