When Helen Koesters Rosenbaum was a teenager living on Hubbards Lane, her father sometimes sent her to Norman Glass and Custom Framing (4206 Shelbyville Road). However, those were not always happy occasions.
“I was a tomboy, and I’d break the glass in the garage windows. My father made me get the panes replaced,” she said. “I never thought I would work here someday.”
She not only works in the shop, she and her husband, Richard, own it.
Joseph and Lorene Norman opened Norman Glass, as it’s commonly known, in 1949, and hired Helen in 1972 to do office work.
“Mr. Norman asked me to learn shorthand, so I took classes in speed-writing, but he never asked me to take a letter after that,” she said. “I started learning every bit and part of the business – how to ‘chop’ a frame, set a mat, and put them together – and I’ve been here ever since.”
Joe Norman died in 1975, but Lorene kept the business going. Richard, who had married Helen during the previous year, soon started stopping in to help, after his daily work at the old Fischer Packing Company plant was over. By the time Lorene was ready to sell in 1996, the plant was closing, so the Rosenbaums purchased Norman Glass from her and went into business together.
Like the shop’s founders, the couple makes frames out of wood or metal – not plastics such as polyurethane, which are difficult to repair (“We see what happens when they fall off the wall,” Helen said).
“The main thing we’ve changed is that we have added more choices in frame styles,” Richard said. “We probably have the largest selection around. I’d say thousands, and in a wide range of prices.”
Helen, who has always liked working with her hands, enjoys creating shadow boxes. Using acid-free materials and suede backgrounds, she has made boxes for items such as horse show ribbons and graduation mementoes – even hair, from dogs as well as humans.
The Rosenbaums are determined to keep their customers coming back. Last week, a woman brought in a piece of glass that was too big for her frame. Richard ground the glass down, at no charge, and put it in the frame for her.
“Our busiest times are when school starts, before Christmas and at graduation, and before Derby, when people are getting ready for parties,” Richard said. “Some tastes have changed over the years: In the 1970s and ‘80s, people brought in horse collars to be made into mirrors. It was amazing how many horse collar mirrors were around back then.”
Norman Glass has expanded its services into decorative glass; for example, replacing the plain panes in kitchen cabinet doors with patterned or antique-style ones. It also replaces panes in storm windows and doors, and single-pane windows.
Customers have noticed a big change taking place right outside the shop. The massive blue-and-white sign that hung above the door for decades is making way for a newer version. The transformation is in keeping with the renovation that continues across the front of the row of shops.
Made primarily of porcelain, the sign is being sent to The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. Over the years, the Rosenbaums have seen people stop to photograph the sign, attracted by its bold, retro style.
“We took a photo and emailed it to the museum, and they said they’d love to have it,” Helen said. “We couldn’t stand to see it thrown into a dumpster. It breaks my heart to see it go, because it’s been here forever.”
The new sign will spell out “Norman Glass and Custom Framing” in order to ensure that passersby are perfectly clear about their services.
“That’s been a problem from time to time. Someone comes in for a piece of glass, maybe for a table top, and says, ‘I didn’t know you did framing.’ Or they come for a frame and say, ‘You really do glass work?’ Yes, we do both,” Helen said.
The Rosenbaums, like the Normans before them, are grateful to area residents who patronize stores such as theirs.
“There aren’t many framing shops left in St. Matthews. This economy is tough. We’re a luxury item, not a necessity,” she said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen several generations come in. It’s great that people come back to us. We want to stay here as long as we possibly can.”
Norman Glass and Custom Framing, 4206 Shelbyville Road, opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. on Monday, opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, phone 502.895.4275.