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Meet Melisa Inez Walker of Distinction Gallery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melisa Inez Walker.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Melisa Inez. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2003 I was happy working at a gallery, but out of the blue, a 7,000 sq ft building close to my house came on the market. I asked Sam (my boyfriend of 3 months at the time) if he would quit his job with me and buy the building. He asked what we would do with it and I said: “make it a high-end gallery and studio complex”. The concept was a niche I felt was missing in the area.

His response was “are you sure it will be a success”? I told him between my ideas and business savviness and his incredible attention to detail and expert construction skills that I was sure we could make it successful. A few days later I met the real estate agent in the space. The space was in dire shape and literally, every inch of it needed a makeover. I was alone and the real estate agent couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights.

Regardless I knew Sam and I could make it work and made an offer and signed the documents to purchase on the spot. Between credit cards, equity from my house, and a loan we convinced a client of Sam’s to give us (later handsomely paid back) we were able to cobble together a down payment and money to rehab the building.

Sam and I worked 20 hour days for three months straight to remodel the space. We would take shifts sleeping in one of the upstairs studios (we would hang up a piece of sheetrock to cover the opening to the room and screw it in – then wake each other when it was time to get back up!)

During those three months, we converted the dilapidated building into a gallery, 14 studios, bathroom, and partial kitchen. Fast forward to 2010 – due to the great demand from teens in the area we converted part of the space into ArtHatch and added a free teen arts program for at-risk youth ages 15-19. In 2016, we added an escape room to help serve as a fundraiser for the program. We opened a second room in May of this year.

Distinction Gallery has become far more well known, globally, than I ever thought was possible in my wildest dreams. We sell artwork to every state in the US as well as regularly to clients in Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico, and Canada. Unfortunately, on Feb 7 of this year my hubby, best friend, business partner, and dad of my kids passed away to a very rare form of cancer.

I miss him dearly and considered selling the business, but have decided to keep it going. I finished the second escape room with a group of dear friends and dedicated the room and all of the puzzles to him. I have hired a few great additions to the gallery staff and we are continuing to move forward and honor Sam’s great legacy.

Has it been a smooth road?
The recession certainly affected us in 2009-2011. We weathered the storm and came through it much stronger. 2012-present have been strong.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Distinction Gallery story. Tell us more about the business.
Distinction Gallery is best known for showing highly skilled artists from across the world. We represent 16 painters who have regularly scheduled exhibitions. Additionally, we show ArtHatch artists as well as do two annual charity shows – one to raise money for Palomar College Scholarships (in honor my Dad) and our KPBS Producers Club membership (in honor of Sam) and a 24-hour Art-A-Thon event to raise money for our teen arts program.

Distinction Gallery is known for quick responses to clients and good customer service. I believe it is equally important to treat both my clients and artists well. That, in my opinion, is the key to our success.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
We do quite a bit of our business online and have for years. I see that trend continuing. However, people also love to come to our openings, on the second Saturday of every month, to support ArtHatch artists who are often working live.

We have created a great following, sense of community, and family with the artists within our space and the public – many of our fans have been attending monthly shows for the past 14 years. We also have visitors from all over the world who have bought online for years but visit when they are in town.


  • Artwork in the building is priced from $20-$45,000 so their is truly something for every budget

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brandy Sebastian, Kurt Lightfoot, Michael Manares, June Stratton, Heather McKey, Victor Roman, Scott Rohlfs, Jon Jaylo, Gabe Leonard

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Linda B. Walker

    August 30, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Quite a journey indeed for my beautiful daughter, talented in so many ways. Thank you for sharing her amazing story! I am one proud Mom!

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