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Broad Avenue Arts District Hits Its Stride


 
It’s a drizzling Saturday afternoon in July, yet people are still braving the dreary weather to take a stroll through the Broad Avenue Arts District. Umbrellas in hands, they’re as varied as the eclectic vibe there: A suburban couple with two children, a tattooed young woman with violet braids and a nose ring, a group of men in basketball jerseys gathered outside Broadway Pizza, a doctor in scrubs walking purposefully into Victory Bicycle Studio.
 
With the mix of distinctive shops, galleries and eateries on one side of the street and an explosion of color on the other – courtesy of French artist Guillaume Alby’s “This is Me. This is You. THIS IS WE” street mural and, in the background, the equally arresting water tower, transformed by local artist Tylur French and lighting designer Jeremy Fisher – it’s easy to see why Broad Avenue attracts attention, even in less-than-ideal weather.
 
The evolution of the arts district, located north of Sam Cooper Boulevard between Hollywood and Scott Street, has been about seven years in the making, kicking off in 2010 with “A New Face for an Old Broad,” a street festival with pop-up shops, food vendors, events and performances. That event, said Paul West, president of the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance, gave the community a glimpse of the area’s potential.
 
Today, the area has lived up to that potential, so much so that many business owners there refute the description “up and coming.” Broad Avenue has officially hit its stride, they say, and its future looks even brighter.


 
“For a long time, Broad Avenue was all about potential and what could be done with it. Now, moving forward, I think it’s more about getting people to come see it. Come look at what we’ve accomplished,” said West, a Chamber member who also owns West Memorials on Broad with his wife, Missy. “Our store owners take a lot of pride in what they’re presenting to people. Everything has its own flavor and distinctiveness to it. When you leave here, you feel like you’ve had a very unique experience.”
 
That’s not to say there still aren’t plans in the works.
 
“We’re having to adjust from a rampant-growth mode to a nurturing-vision mode,” West said. “We still have things that are going to happen. The bike lanes will be finished next spring. And the Water Tower Pavilion is a great feature and event space, so we’re looking at having more big events here.”
 
West and his wife opened West Memorials in 2007, not because they knew Broad Avenue was going to become a burgeoning arts district, but because the real estate prices were great for the space they needed.
 
“We designed our place to look like an art gallery. When people walked in the front door, we didn’t want it to look like a tombstone place,” he said. “And then Broad became an arts district, so everything lined up to work out for us.”


 
West isn’t the only Chamber member on Broad Avenue. Meet a few others, each with a different perspective to share:
 
Victory Bicycle Studio
Owner Clark Butcher opened Victory Bicycle Studio in September 2011. “We’re a high-service store that happens to sell bicycles.” His services encompass fitting, coaching, spin classes and cycling tours, to name a few. “We chose Broad because it’s a destination. It’s slower, and that allows us not to rush the process and really focus on the customer.” Butcher, who said the Chamber has “rolled out the red carpet” to help him make crucial business connections, added that he’d like to see offices and nonprofits join the tenant mix. “I want tenants over here that are bringing something different, that are providing a service and a culture. I love seeing that.”


 
Merchants on Broad
The newest member of the Chamber, Jack Steiner relocated here from Chattanooga and opened his business in February 2016. He sells high-end reclaimed, repurposed and restored home décor and also offers custom painting services. “With the synergy of the different businesses down here, I envision that Broad will only get better. People here understand that working together is the way to grow this area.” Steiner contributes by renting some of his shop space to smaller vendors. He joined the Chamber because he was impressed with its customer service. “If I have a particular need, I know I can go to the Chamber and find a member that can satisfy the need.”


 
City & State
City & State opened in March 2015 and specializes in handcrafted products and, in its adjoining coffee bar, fantastic coffee. “Broad Avenue exemplifies what I believe Memphis to be, which is a community full of diversity that is ever-evolving and continuously improving,” said owner Lisa Toro. “Our customers come from all across the city and beyond. We attract many who have recently moved to Memphis and are looking for a space that reminds them of something they left behind.” Toro said she joined the Chamber for growth resources and learning opportunities. “It was an important step for us as a new small business in Memphis.”
 
The Rec Room
John Morgan and Taylor Berger opened their 6,000-square-foot space on Broad at Tillman in April 2015. “It's been a wild ride! We started out in an old warehouse with no air conditioning, a few vintage video games, hot dogs and beer,” Berger said. Now they have a full bar, handmade pizza, six massive projection screens, more games and, yes, air conditioning. Virtual reality rooms are on the horizon. Basically, The Rec Room is a place to kick back, host parties, socialize and have fun. “Our customer base has expanded beyond the neighborhood to include families and Millennials from Downtown, Collierville, North Mississippi and beyond. We look forward to continued evolution and growth.”

Story by: Erinn Figg
Photography by: Troy Glasgow

 




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THE M BLOG
The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 (cmeek@memphischamber.com) or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (jfish@memphischamber.com).

 

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