If you went to a concert in Salt Lake City in the late 2000s, you could probably find the show’s promotional poster, designed by artist Leia Bell, and the band’s latest album on vinyl — all in one building.
Located at 221 E. Broadway at the time, Bell’s downtown store and gallery, Signed & Numbered, sat in the basement, with record store Slowtrain just above it. The one-stop spot once well known to music lovers has since been demolished, but Bell and her husband, Phil Sherburne, are still celebrating 15 years of being in business as Signed & Numbered.
These days, the two are more focused on building and selling custom frames than being a poster shop, and their store is now located in South Salt Lake, next door to the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a business person, but it’s still here 15 years later, so we’re just learning as we go, how to survive and keep going,” Sherburne said. “... We’re really lucky. It’s changed, it’s gotten a lot bigger and better and faster. Where I think it’s more of a real business now.”
Bell remembers when she would dumpster dive for paper in order to make flyers for shows at Kilby Court, which was started by Sherburne in July 1999. She said she once agonized over buying a paper cutter for $80, thinking it cost too much.
“We debated it for weeks. I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I really need to get that, that’s so much money,’” she said. “And [I] wouldn’t let him get the internet at the house because I thought it was too expensive and a waste of money. ... So yeah, we eventually got the internet, though.” And the paper cutter, which she still has.
Bell, who graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in printmaking, started making posters for Kilby Court shows in 2000, using her distinctive cartoonish style with its bold black lines and bright colors.
In 2006, when Sherburne and Bell were still running Kilby Court, they had their third child. With their other children in school, they needed a daytime job, they said. So in 2008, they sold Kilby Court to Will Sartain and Lance Saunders, and used the money to open Signed & Numbered, named for the way printmakers sign and number their limited-edition prints.
Their first business space, in Slowtrain’s basement, had “character,” Sherburne said, but it also had its flaws. Sherburne said he had to do a lot of renovations to make the space useable. There was also a major pest infestation, and the IKEA frames they used were “literally falling apart on the wall” because of the humidity.
That’s why Sherburne, who had a woodworking business before he started Kilby, dug out his tools from storage and started building frames in their backyard to better display posters in the shop.
They still weren’t making custom frames to sell, “we were just selling art inside the frames we had made,” Sherburne said. They were also focusing on doing shows for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll, including one that was themed around “The Big Lebowski.”
After about a year in the basement at Slowtrain, their rent went up, and Sherburne and Bell considered moving back to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Bell is from. “It was pretty scary, touch and go,” Sherburne said.
But then Blue Plate Diner in Sugar House offered them a small space next door, and Signed & Numbered moved there in 2009.
A loyal following
Their new space was “tiny,” Sherburne said, and wasn’t on a Gallery Stroll route, so he and Bell transitioned to mainly making frames, and their Etsy store started to take off.
But they were quickly “outgrowing” the space next to Blue Plate, Bell said, so in 2010 they moved a second time, to their current space at 2320 S. West Temple.
The front of Signed & Numbered is a small retail space, filled with ready-made wooden frames of all sizes, prints from Bell and other artists, consigned art, and frame samples in case you want to order something custom.
The back space was going to be the frame shop, but they quickly outgrew that, too, so now Sherburne and Bell build their frames at a space about five minutes away, then bring them back to the main shop.
Bell said they do about 80% of their business online now, with their frames being bought by people all over the country, “so we’ve had to get good at shipping frames and packing and all that.”
But despite all the moving around, Signed & Numbered has earned a loyal following. Many of their customers discovered Bell and Sherburne’s work while the shop was in Sugar House, the couple says. And “quite a few of our customers have been with us since the beginning,” Bell said.
They’ve never advertised, they said. All their business is from word of mouth. “It’s cool to go to someone’s house party or something and then you see our frame on the wall,” Bell said.
Sherburne and Bell have even seen their frames in a restaurant as faraway as northern Michigan. “And we get people texting us saying, ‘These are your frames, I know it!’” Sherburne said. “Because they have their look. They’re out there.”
As far as where Signed & Numbered goes from here, Sherburne joked that he’s “open to suggestions.” But on a more serious note, he said, “We’re getting older. We were a lot younger when we started this. And now we have to think about where this is going.” But they have “lots of momentum.”
To celebrate their 15th anniversary, Phil Sherburne and Leia Bell are throwing a private party at Signed & Numbered on Saturday, April 29, featuring live music from Theoretical Blonde. Follow @builtfromwood on Instagram for more information.