Those of you who have read this blog for a long time know that one of my favorite buildings is the Daylight Building. I first came to know it about twenty years ago when Urban Daughter took acting classes there. Sitting on the 500 block of Union Avenue, it could easily have been knocked down years ago to make way for more fine surface parking. Instead, it was preserved by David Dewhirst and is today, bursting with life. Residents fill the upper floors and four of the five retail spaces below are filled with John Black Photography, Just Ripe, Union Avenue Books and Reruns Boutique. A fifth merchant should be added soon. I’m proud to welcome them as my newest sponsors.
Among the thousands of people who crowd downtown most days recently and the thousands of others who have made their homes there in recent years, there are not so many who know the businesses and people who have been involved in downtown for decades. New stores blend with old, new voices emerge and sound the same, to most of us, as the voices with more history. Most people likely do not know the depth of the downtown roots of Nanci Solomon and Reruns Boutique.
Nanci came to work downtown when she was in her twenties. She worked for Kristopher Kendrick in the early 1980’s as a server at his new Bistro at the Bijou and as a door-person at the Lord Lindsey, which old-time Knoxvillians will remember. She, as do so many people, credits Kristopher with giving her an early helping-hand and shaping her thinking about preservation and the city which he always envisioned as a sparkling jewel. She also worked at the Union Café, which she remembers as a fine restaurant, and which was located in the Arnstein Building where Urban Outfitters does business, today.
By 1986 she determined that she would open a store, utilizing her major in fashion merchandizing, and in April of that year, along with two partners who she eventually bought out, opened Reruns on Union Avenue in the Sprankle Building on the 400 Block of Union Avenue. She opened it on her thirtieth birthday and so she has celebrated a double birthday every year since.
Downtown was not in good shape at the time, but it meant the rents were cheap, so it worked for her. Rent was $500 a month for a number of years – an unheard of rate fro a store-front in the city currently. The store focused on vintage fashions and featured an awning right out of a Miami Vice set which was hand-painted with the help of a good friend. She was able to afford a fancier awning by 1991.
By 2001 the tenants in the Sprankle Building were being moved out so the building could be torn down to make way for the essential office space required by Home Federal. The building had been purchased as a part of the settling of the Sprankle estate. Of course, that space now features a massive hole-in-the-ground and surface parking lot directly across from the great retail on the 400 block of Union Avenue. I noticed Monday during business hours the lot had a dozen cars occupying the 100+ spaces. Union Avenue during this era nearly died. She remembers Pete’s, ABC Loan Company and a shoeshine business being all that was left.
Determined to stay downtown and noting the potential on Market Square, Nanci moved the store to 2 Market Square where she would stay for the next ten years. Highlights from those years included fashion shows in which models walked throughout the square mingling with the crowd at the first Sundown in the City concerts and watching the transformation of Market Square from a place so deserted it was scary on the weekends to a vibrant center of a recovering inner city. Lowlights included a flood from a ruptured water main in 2002 which destroyed the business and shut her down for two months.
The move to Market Square helped solidify the business and she enjoyed ten years there. Eventually, however, owner Pat McHugh decided to sell the building, putting it on the market in 2010. As a result of the building being on the market, Mr. McHugh did not want to extend leases beyond a month at a time. It wasn’t a workable situation for Nancy and for Reruns. She’d just opened Rala, (an acronym for Regional and Local Artists) and it had a long-term lease and was doing well, but she, once again, needed a new home for Reruns.
She needed drive-up access for people bringing clothes and she needed a quality small space. The choices were limited, but the one that caught her eye just happened to be a building she had long admired: The Daylight Building. Saved from demolition and undergoing a significant rehab, it seemed to be the perfect choice. In moving there, Nanci feels she has not only found a good location in a great building, but she’s found a new family in the other merchants as well as the neighbors in Kendrick Place, Crown Court, the Pembroke and in the upper floors of the Daylight Building itself. She also loves the view out her window of the lovely Pembroke Building.
Owning a business for many years has been very instructive to Nanci. It became clear early on that without the help of family, friends and co-workers, no business can be a success. She learned early that no one can be good at everything and surrounding yourself with a quality team is paramount to success. She learned to do what she did best and let others do the rest. She describes owning a business as an amazing journey in which one has to constantly re-invent and be prepared to face new challenges.
Her greatest pleasure is in watching all the girls who have worked for her go on to make their mark independently. She mentioned Briana Lamberson, manager at Reruns who will, no doubt, be added to that list. She also mentioned Paris Woodhull who made the first purchase of her life with her own money at Reruns when she was ten-years-old. At fourteen Paris wrote a letter explaining why Nanci should hire her. She had researched labor laws and assured Nanci it was OK. She worked there through high school and everyone who knows Paris expects her to do big things.
Reruns is an upscale consignment boutique featuring designer and boutique brand clothing, shoes and accessories. The staff includes dedicated stylists who have a love for fashion and who really want to help you find the perfect compliment for your wardrobe. The inventory on their fabulous clothing changes daily so each visit is a unique and personalized experience. Now you know that it also happens to be one of the oldest surviving retail establishments in the city.
A great opportunity to visit Nanci and Reruns is offered tonight on the occasion of the Daylight Building’s second monthly block party. Held on the third Thursday of each month, the party features a wide range of food trucks, as well as fresh baked food from Just Ripe. Music will fill the air, neighbors will mingle and you have a chance to get to know the stores in the Daylight Building and maybe snag a deal while you are at it. It runs from 5:00 – 8:00 and I’ll be there early so I can scoot out and catch Pecha Kucha at the Standard at 7:30.