BIZNOTE: U-Frame-It proprietor gets ready to hang it up after almost half a century of framing

(WSB photos)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In two weeks, Tom Sweeney will end a 48-year career, closing one of West Seattle’s last two framing shops.

It’s not because of lack of business, or increased rent, or any of the frequently cited business-closure reasons. The proprietor of U-Frame-It says simply, “I’m tired.”

We talked to Tom in his shop at Jefferson Square, where he’s been for 10 years, after 20 years on California SW, in a storefront lost to redevelopment. We found out about his retirement plan from readers who heard it from him face-to-face; he hasn’t made an announcement via email, or social media, as he says he doesn’t use a computer or cell phone – “I’m an old Luddite,” he laughs, displaying a sheaf of handwritten business records when we ask how many customers he’s served over the decades.

How did he happen into framing as a career? Tom says he was a cross-country driver, just back from eight months on the road, when he walked into a shop to see about framing some photos he had taken. They happened to be hiring, no experience required. Tom said he’d “had enough” of life on the road – so he decided to give it a try, and started November 1, 1975. “They were having so much fun.”

And so was he, until a few years ago. Until the pandemic, Tom says, “this wasn’t work” – and then business intensified, with so many more people spending so much more time at home. He was overwhelmed; his turnaround time increased, from one week to two months. (The shop name U-Frame-It might imply self-serve, but Tom says that business line ended a while back. He doesn’t have employees, either, though he says he did until The Great Recession in the ’00s.)

Even with the steady business, Tom says, “Nobody wants to buy stores.” Nobody much wants to buy his equipment, even; he’s sold one item to a downtown business, but the rest, he expects, will end up “in my garage.” He realizes that “being a shopkeeper is an old-fashioned thing.” And he’s an old-fashioned framer, “doing it the same way I have since I started.”

Not that long ago, he says, West Seattle had seven framing shops. After U-Frame-It closes, only Northwest Art and Frame will remain. He’s already sending people there; though May 31st is his planned last day, he’s already turning away new business (someone opened the door while we were in the shop talking with him, and he offered regrets and redirection).

Since he isn’t making a formal announcement, we asked if he has parting words: “West Seattle’s been incredibly kind to me … I’ve met people (and am) doing their children’s framing now. The clients have been nothing but gracious and kind to me. I’m going to miss them … I’m very grateful.”

So what’s Tom planning to do in retirement? “Sleep, and work in my yard. I’ve been ignoring my yard for 30 years.”

24 Replies to "BIZNOTE: U-Frame-It proprietor gets ready to hang it up after almost half a century of framing"

  • Jen May 17, 2024 (1:48 pm)

    Tom’s the best. Love the three beautiful items he framed for me. Thanks for the incredible dedication!

    • Jennifer May 23, 2024 (12:12 pm)

      I have been going to Tom for 30 years     He always helped me with choosing the right mats frames etc!!   Thank you Tom for your amazing service!!   Enjoy retirement. It’s wonderful!!!

  • Jeepney May 17, 2024 (1:55 pm)

    Congratulations on a great career, enjoy your retirement.

  • Liz May 17, 2024 (2:04 pm)

    Love Tom! Thank you for being a welcoming and gifted shopkeeper! You will be missed! Enjoy your time, rest well and celebrate in your yard!

  • Alki resident May 17, 2024 (2:07 pm)

    Definitely used him when he was on California Ave many years ago. Its always sad to see an old business go but good for him for having so much history in our area.Happy Retirement Tom!

  • Carson May 17, 2024 (2:20 pm)

    I need a new frame vice! What a great story, I hope he finds the time to teach his skills to a few neighborhood kids.

  • Art Lover May 17, 2024 (2:32 pm)

    Oh we’llreally miss, Tom—but so glad he’ll be enjoying retirement!!happy trails, Tom!

  • Justducky May 17, 2024 (2:35 pm)

    Sad to hear this, I’ve used U-frame-it for years since the 90s, [the other ones that were in the area], both self-serve and their professional services. I liked doing it myself because of bad experiences at other frame shops. Wishing Tom the best on his retirement. 

  • RayWest May 17, 2024 (2:48 pm)

    Sorry to see him go, it’s definitely a needed service, but happy to hear it’s because he chooses to, and it’s not the usual “downturn in business” reason. I hope he enjoys his retirement. I’ve certainly been enjoying mine. Just stay busy, Tom.

  • justme May 17, 2024 (3:07 pm)

    Thanks Tom, for years of business in this great community. I’ve been coming in since your shop on California. Always drooling over that Black Crows framed piece you have. Happy Retirement and enjoy your yard! I bet it will have a lovely “frame” of garden bed around it.

  • Admiral-2009 May 17, 2024 (3:15 pm)

    20 years, well done.  Time to hang it up, no pun intended.  Enjoy your retirement!

  • Justin May 17, 2024 (3:20 pm)

    Well done on the “hang it up” pun in the title.I’m praying the record never stops for WSB.

  • Sue May 17, 2024 (4:09 pm)

    I’m looking right now at a masterful farming job Tomdid in the mid-90’s. A silk painting I bought back fromChina rolled up in a suitcase. All these years later, everyone who comes in our house still admires it. Happy retirement, Tom. 

  • Flaunt-Leroy May 17, 2024 (5:35 pm)

    Congratulations Tom! You can tell from these comments that your work, passion, and skill will  live on here in West Seattle. I would be very interested in the kind of hardware a skilled craftsman like this was using and wanted to part with, perhaps a listing of some of the items He is wanted to part with would drum up some interest?

  • Stephanie May 17, 2024 (7:26 pm)

    I don’t blame him, but we will miss his expertise. He has been framing (or reframing) our pieces since we moved to WS in 2001. Enjoy retirement—you deserve it!

  • M May 17, 2024 (7:45 pm)

    Sorry to hear this, but happy for his retirement. I have done many self framing there with Tom’s help. I also had him do special framing for me as well over many years.

  • Olivia May 17, 2024 (7:49 pm)

    Congrats & best wishes to Tom!

  • Barb May 17, 2024 (8:22 pm)

    Tom, I’ll miss your friendly shop which was always relaxing and fun when I went there over many years at both locations pre-pandemic. You have an artist’s eye and gift for knowing just what to suggest. I am still very happy with all the framing you helped me with. Also, having retired myself after working a half century, sleeping in is great. Best Wishes!!!

  • 1994 May 17, 2024 (10:45 pm)

    Tom said he doesn’t use a computer…..maybe WSB or a commenter can print the replies & drop them off at his shop? I wish Tom the best with sleeping & working in his yard.  My recommendation is to give napping in the yard a try – it is the best.

  • Pat Eskenazi May 18, 2024 (5:37 am)

        I’ve had several pieces of art framed by Tom.  His work was always amazing.  He is just such a kind gentleman.  I will miss him and the work he does and am so sad to see him close shop.  I wish Tom all the best.

  • Beachside May 18, 2024 (2:16 pm)

    This is such a cute story. Thanks for everything, Tom. I wish the last years hadn’t been so hard and am thankful he persevered.Enjoy that retirement!

  • Heidi May 18, 2024 (10:37 pm)

    I have used Tom’s expertise since I moved to West Seattle.  I am so happy he gets to enjoy retirement and sad we have lost this gem of an expert in our community. 

  • matt May 20, 2024 (11:25 am)

    He framed all of our ol Rocket Magazine’s u see at Easy Street. Thanks Tom ! 

  • Mcsmith May 21, 2024 (2:01 pm)

    Still the best framer I’ve ever used. Best of luck in retirement. 

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