She still bikes from her small house a few blocks away to her cute crammed shop in Lincoln’s bustling downtown, and bounds out from behind the counter with a smile to greet her regular customers coming from the university a short walk away.
Peggy Gomez has met all sorts of challenges over the past 12 years running her independent art supply store, from competing against the big chains to stocking brushes and canvases for the aspiring art student to the seasoned professional.
But a broken ankle gave her a challenge Gomez said she barely could afford.
After completing a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and a master’s in fine arts from the University of Minnesota, and a nine-week business preparatory course at Southeast Community College sponsored by the SBA, she started Gomez Art Supply in 2003 and moved to her present location three years later.
“I’d always been involved in arts, one way or another,” Gomez said. “I used to teach at (UNL) part time, and then I had a staff and a teaching position that was with the printmaking area, and it was from that job that I decided to open up the art supply store.”
Gomez runs the store with the help of one employee, stocking shelves with supplies for traditional black and white photography, printmaking, drawing, acrylic and oil painting, ceramics and drafting tools. Catering chiefly to the surrounding university community and drawing upon that network of former colleagues for business, professors often refer students to her nearby store.
She’s also received the 2010 Alumni Achievement in Art awarded by UNL’s Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.
Yet even as she worked hard to keep her customers happy, she had one nagging worry: she’d been without health insurance for 12 years.
“I broke my ankle three years ago, I fractured it in three places,” Gomez said. “I broke it on a Friday, I had surgery on a Saturday morning. I’m still paying off my ankle. A lot of that is (from) the titanium plates and screws.
“So that whole experience, going through that process, with no insurance, was a real eye opener,” she added. “You’re not treated all that nice, assumptions are kind of made about who you are as a person if you don’t have insurance. Maybe they thought I didn’t have a job, I don’t know. The surgeon himself was a very nice man, and he gave me a really good break on his bill and as he was explaining to me that I really should be spending the night in the hospital, I said I didn’t want to because I didn’t have insurance.”
Gomez said whenever she would clean her gutters, crawling up a ladder, she’d immediately think, “I don’t have insurance. You do think that, ‘I have to be extra careful.’”
She said she would often be visited in her shop by health insurance salesmen: “They would tell me things like, ‘the older you get, the harder it gets to get insurance, the longer you go without, the harder it gets to get insurance.’ And I don’t know that they’re wrong, I think those things are probably true.”
As open enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans became a reality in October, Gomez visited the health care exchange web site and as a sole proprietor, signed up for a Gold plan. She also qualified for a subsidy to help defray the cost of her monthly premium.
“My cost for that is $115 a month, and through my tax credit, they pay $267,” she said.