Peoria's Paint Shop

Born Paint colors its hometown with more than brush strokes.
 

by Alison Ferolo with Emmanuel Agyemang
Born Paint is a generous sponsor of local arts events like the Sun Foundation's Art & Science in the Woods. Photo by Leonid Kozintsev
Born Paint is a generous sponsor of local arts events like the Sun Foundation's Art & Science in the Woods. Photo by Leonid Kozintsev

It may be a “small business,” but there is nothing small about Born Paint Company’s enduring investment in central Illinois. If you’ve ever stepped inside this Peoria institution, you know there is heart, generosity and care on a grand scale coming from everyone you meet. “We look at [Peoria] as our home,” Pat Berres notes matter-of-factly, “and we are very happy to help the community and our neighborhood.”

Over the last decade, Born Paint has been a direct witness to the revitalization of Peoria’s Warehouse District and, with trademark modesty, accepts some credit for adding to the beautification. The company has been in business more than 100 years and has always taken pride in its hometown. While they have changed locations four times over the past century, they have remained downtown and today can be found adjacent to Dozer Park—one of a handful of centenarian businesses still standing. The three Berres brothers, Paul Jr., Peter and Pat, carry on the family business their grandfather Herb purchased in 1950, and they are quick to note how fortunate they are to have maintained such great longevity.

Through the years, hundreds of community projects around the region have had a stroke or two of Born Paint on them. The company is a perennial friend of the arts and sponsor of special events like the Sun Foundation’s Art & Science in the Woods, yet bragging rights are not something they cling to. As Pat humbly explains, “We like to pass along our good fortune and help other people. It’s a very satisfying feeling to know that people value you for your experience and knowledge.” And it’s that local sense of “doing the right thing” that makes Born Paint such a vital part of the community.

Pat Berres, left, and Pete Berres, right, with Doug Leunig of Big Picture Initiative
Pat Berres, left, and Pete Berres, right, with Doug Leunig of Big Picture Initiative

A Strong Community Partner 
One local organization, Big Picture Initiative, reached out to the Berres brothers when they needed paint and related supplies for mural projects around the Warehouse District. When first approached, Pat says it was an “absolute yes” that they would be involved. Equally as quickly, and with a note of unassuming candor, he is adamant in pointing out that many of the artists involved with such community projects purchase the supplies themselves. It is with this reserved humility that Born Paint has served its customers for generations.

A friendship with Big Picture co-founders Doug and Eileen Leunig was part of the connection between the two organizations, with Pat adding that Born would supply absolutely anything they needed. “If it’s within reason, I’m all for it. Because to me, it’s pretty small potatoes in the big picture,” he notes, with no hint of a pun. 

Pat strikes consistent tones of gratitude and pride when speaking on behalf of the company. If you watch their YouTube videos, you likely will get the same feeling. It’s that “something special” found in small, locally-owned businesses that truly take time with their customers—that magical quality you won’t always find in the paint department at Home Depot. Many of their employees have been with the company for decades, Pat notes, and that is no accident. He credits their sterling reputation and knowledge of the industry, adding they feel very grateful to have maintained such loyalty for so many years.

Many of their customers have tried other stores, Pat notes, but just need a little more time and guidance to talk over their ideas. With so much inspiration available on the internet and countless home improvement shows to watch, first-time painters often come to Born Paint to get a little extra patience and knowledge. “We’re known for our people, and [the customer] realizes that these people know what they are talking about—especially if they’ve been with us for 30-plus years, which most of our employees have. We embrace that.”

Artist Mariam Graff created a whimsical animal scene showcasing Born Paint products for this mural on the side of their building.
Artist Mariam Graff created a whimsical animal scene showcasing Born Paint products for this mural on the side of their building.

Finding the Inner Artist
In speaking with Pat and hearing him talk about the Born Paint staff, one detects a deep sense of community and of sharing for the greater good. For them, helping individual customers is no different than supporting the larger community—and their involvement with the murals downtown was just another way to share the happiness that art can bring to people. “I have seen other cities with a strong art influence in the downtown areas, and they seem to create such a sense of pride among the residents,” he explains. “I strongly feel that Peoria’s downtown and Warehouse District can create the same feeling among its residents with more art and murals… beautifying the area.”

As they do what they can for the community from their storefront, the Berres brothers are modest about the impact they’ve clearly had on Peoria. They respect their well-earned place in people’s lives and appreciate how personal the majority of their interactions are. In our conversation, Pat conveys a genuine appreciation for the trust his customers place in him and his staff, as well as for the difference color can make in our daily lives. By simply changing the color of a front door, he continues, those feelings of connection and community can be boosted—he loves to hear from customers raving about the compliments their neighbors have given them. 

“I enjoy seeing people get a color, take before and after pictures, and share them with us,” Pat continues. “It’s true: that people find their inner artist. And that goes along with the artists down here. The bright colors of these murals… it just makes people feel better. [They] provide an intangible positive experience for visitors to our great city.”

Inspiring Peoria’s visitors and residents alike may not be what Pat Berres and his brothers set out to do when they took over the family business. But helping all who walk through their doors find their inner artist is something they will continue to do for years to come. PM

Born Paint is open Monday thru Friday, 7am to 5pm. For more information, visit bornpaint.com or call (309) 673-3718. 

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