The large oil paintings sold in the store are mostly priced in the $100-$250 range.
The large oil paintings sold in the store are mostly priced in the $100-$250 range.
CANTON - It's cliché to call anything a mom-and-pop store these days, but if you are going to try to find a better way to describe Cricket Box Framing on the square in Canton, knock yourself out.

JoAnn and Gene Phillips have been in the framing business in Canton for 40 years, including the last 25 at their current location on the square. JoAnn picks the art and runs the shop, and Gene builds frames of all shapes, sizes and colors. Ornate, rustic or conservative - he makes them all.

While other custom framers across the country have long gone out of business, the Phillips have maintained their shop, despite the fact that every year, it seems, they have to go further and further away to get framing supplies.

"What we've learned, we've learned through experience," JoAnn said when asked about the store's staying power. "The business has changed a lot over the years, but we have a good local base of customers, and now we're getting customers from as far away as Vicksburg and Meridian, because there aren't that many custom framers left."

That certainly wasn't the case when the couple opened the original Cricket Box over on Hill Street in 1973.

Back then, they sold gifts, knick-knacks, children's clothes and, of course, frames. The name of the shop came from the little vented brass boxes you used to see in homes across the south. Now, they're mostly found in antique shops.

When it was a gift shop, the name was unique, and made sense. When the business shifted to an art and frame focus, the name didn't.

"It's unique," JoAnn said. "It sets us apart."

While the sign over the door hasn't evolved, the business has. Years ago, Gene built a workshop in the studio behind the couple's beautiful S. Madison Street home, just two blocks away from the store. He has tools from every era of mankind - as basic as a hammer to drive in the nails that hold frames together and as complex as a computer-generated mat-cutting machine that makes perfect cuts a reality.

The frames have to be custom-built by hand, and that takes the majority of Gene's time, but it's what he enjoys most.

"There's not a school you attend to learn how to do this," he said. "You learn by making mistakes and trying new ideas. After 50 years, it's kind of second-nature at this point, but it can still get very technical."

And interesting, apparently. On top of the thousands of paintings and photos, the couple has framed all kinds of other items over the years, including everything from arrowheads to feed sacks.

"We get a lot of items like this one," Gene said as he held up a large, worn map of the world from an old National Geographic. "You can see where this map was folded, but we have a machine that will press out the creases as much as they can be pressed out."

Watching him work, you can tell Gene loves what he does. But it isn't just that he enjoys it - he takes pride in each and every job he does.

"About 99 percent of the people we do work for are pleased with the product," he said. "Our promise to the customer is that we'll work with them to give them exactly what they want, and we'll make sure not to decrease the value of the item."

The store features paintings for all kinds of different styles of decoration, and even the largest oil paintings in the store are priced at an affordable $250 or less.

Cricket box is closed Wednesdays and Sundays, but open every other day of the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 3334 N. Liberty Street.