Although he’s spent more than two decades in the construction industry, Michael Wiest said opening an art gallery is a natural fit for him.
“I’ve been an artist all of my life; that’s my first love,” he said. “I have a master’s degree in fine arts and architecture.”
His wife, Mary, and Dr. Carmen Chase are both working partners for Lincoln Plaza Galleria, an art gallery, gift shop and café planned for the former Robbie’s Restaurant space at 4 Old State Capitol Plaza.
Wiest noted that he’s sold art in different art shows over the years as well as various shops, including Studio on 6th in downtown Springfield. Most recently, he was one of several owners of Art Z Studio, an art gallery located in White Oaks Mall. The shop opened on the upper level of the mall in 2017 but was forced to close during the pandemic.
“We had the option of offering curbside pick-up, but that’s not feasible for some of these sculptures that weigh 500 pounds,” Wiest said. “We didn’t know how long the pandemic was going to go on, so we decided not to renew the lease.”
Wiest then decided to look for space in downtown Springfield. “I know the tourism traffic has always been very good down there. The foot traffic is a lot better than the mall,” he said.
The first-floor space that previously housed Robbie’s Restaurant was available for purchase, and “the main part of the space had been totally remodeled,” said Wiest. In 2019, roof damage on the adjacent building broke a sprinkler line, and Robbie’s had to temporarily close for repairs due to the water damage. The restaurant reopened in November 2019, only to close again a few months later due to the pandemic, and in June 2020, owner Arch Bailey announced he would retire and put the building up for sale.
Wiest said there are only minor improvements needed at this point, and he hopes to be open by the first half of October.
“In the main part of the gallery, we will rent space to local artists. The gift shop will be art that we purchase wholesale from around the U.S., since we anticipate a higher volume of sales there,” he said. An on-site café will offer artisan coffee, cocoa and baked goods.