In 2014, the art market reached record proportions, pulling in more than $54.3 billion worldwide, according to the authoritative TEFAF Art Market Report by Art Economics founder Clare McAndrew.

The United States' slice of that savory pie of auction, gallery, and Internet sales represented a none-too-shabby 39 percent - about $21.2 billion, McAndrew reported in March.

But in Philadelphia, sales were spotty, and in many brick-and-mortar galleries, particularly in gallery-rich Old City, sales were flat to down and storm clouds were gathering.

This year, those clouds burst.

Rosenfeld Gallery, Gallery Joe, LGTripp Gallery, Artists' House, and Hooloon Gallery have all closed in Old City. The Vivant Art Gallery closed in October 2014, although it still operates online.

The closing of Rosenfeld marked the end of 40 years in the neighborhood where First Friday has defined the streetscape and embodied Philadelphia's claim as a city of art makers and sellers.

Gallery Joe, still operating privately by appointment, was in Old City for more than 20 years. Ditto Artists' House, which opened in 1991.

Is this just normal churn in a notoriously fickle and difficult business? Or does it herald something more momentous?

Chris Dean of the Schmidt Dean Gallery on Chestnut Street is nervous. He and wife Ilana Schmidt Dean have operated a gallery in Philadelphia for more than a quarter-century.

"Galleries are closing left and right across the country," he said. "Something's been afoot for a year, a year and a half. It feels like the '90s, when everything died. There was nothing after the '80s boom.

"The question is: Is it cyclical or is it a paradigm shift?"

Sculptor Katherine Stanek, 51, who makes large sculptures, among other things, lost her gallery when Richard Rosenfeld announced his decision to retire last year. Her first reaction, she said, was, "What am I going to do?"

She explored the possibility of restarting Rosenfeld, but that ultimately didn't seem feasible.

So she was stuck without a gallery, plus she needed studio and storage space. After "a great deal of research," she joined with artist Deborah Fine and founded the Stanek Gallery, which opened on North Third Street on Nov. 20.

It is not a traditional gallery with a stable of artists. Nor is it an artist-run co-op. Instead, each show will be put together by different curators, museum-style.

The space indeed resembles a museum space. It also features a "Collector's Lounge" where art is placed in a domestic setting separate from the main exhibition area.

It houses Stanek's studio - with public access - and storage.

These changes to the traditional gallery approach, Stanek hopes, will counter larger trends affecting the gallery world. And if they don't completely succeed, she will still have studio and storage space.

"The traditional gallery setting and process of selling is not successful," she said. "Patrons are changing. The greatest impact comes from the Internet. People are buying on the Internet. They can find whatever they want. They don't visit galleries.

"At the same time, these art fairs are going up. You can go to Miami or Chicago or New York and find a whole shopping mall of art."

Stanek hopes the prospect of constantly changing aesthetic sensibilities reflected in curated shows, plus the possibility of seeing art made and hung in a living-room-like space, will coax collectors away from their screens and the art malls.

Perhaps. But there are others in the art world who note that although massive amounts of money are flowing into art, the biggest money is from investors who number in the hundreds - or perhaps a thousand - who are simply looking for places to park large quantities of cash.

A Modigliani may go for $170.4 million at auction (as one did Nov. 9 at Christie's in New York), but no one seems interested in buying artists in the $5,000-to-$50,000 range.

That suggests either changing interests in an upper middle class that no longer finds art acquisition compelling, or a shrinkage in the money available.

Rosenfeld, 75, believes multiple factors are squeezing the traditional small gallery.

"We stopped making a profit about two years ago," he said. "The art market went away. Mostly, I sold to my own generation. But people from my children and grandchildren's generation stopped buying art. No one stops to look at a work of art. No one takes the time to contemplate it. Nobody thinks linearly anymore - they're all into multitasking. It's bad for all cultural events."

Though particular circumstances affected the closing of each Old City gallery, Rodger LaPelle, who has run a gallery on North Third Street since the mid-1980s, suggests a single factor has had the greatest impact.

"The reason fate chose these people to leave was simply that they were renters and all the rest who stayed in business were owners like myself," he said. LaPelle bought his gallery building in 1985.

"It's all strictly rents."

That's certainly a powerful point. Rosenfeld opened his gallery paying $300 a month; he closed paying $3,000.

Rick Snyderman, who owns the 303 Cherry St. building that houses the Snyderman-Works Gallery, said that he might be interested in downsizing but that he wasn't going anywhere.

"If someone comes along and wants to take part of the space, I'll consider it," he said.

At the same time, he pointed out that rising rents and gentrification have bedeviled artists for decades. In Philadelphia, in addition to Old City, artists and galleries have been priced out of the South Street area, Northern Liberties, and now Fishtown.

"The artists are the creative force for the city," Snyderman said, but, he noted, there is no city program - such as loan guarantees - that might help artists and galleries buy property and remain in a gentrifying area.

"The city talks the talk" about art and art organizations and their importance to the city's image and economy, he said. "But it doesn't walk the walk."

215-854-5594@SPSalisbury