The 100 block of Gay Street continues to attract retail businesses. The latest, opening the beginning of this month, is Bootleg Betty, a shop featuring gently used bridal wear, party dresses and boots. Even though I’m not in the market for a bridal gown myself, I met proprietor at First Friday and returned the following week to see what was going on. I took Urban Woman who is, I hope, also not in the market for a wedding dress, but was interested in several other items she found.
Margaret Stanley, the owner of the store greeted us at the door and remembered my name from our brief encounter at First Friday, which I thought was pretty amazing. True to form, of course, I’d promptly forgotten hers. She’s originally from Atlanta, but she and her husband moved to Knoxville from Denver. You know I had to ask, “why Knoxville?”
It turns out she and her husband wanted to move east and buy some land. She has family in North Carolina and they settled on Tennessee, noting its lack of a state income tax and inexpensive (comparatively) prices for land. The selection of a city was settled when they visited Knoxville last summer. They immediately loved the feel of the 100 block and particularly liked Knox Mason. She wandered over to Market Square and saw Shakespeare on the Square and families playing four square. She was sold.
The two of them moved to Knoxville in April and she had her doors open to the new business on July 2. That’s incredibly fast work, so I assumed she must have come from a retail background and knew exactly how to get started. It turns out this is her first retail venture, though she’s been considering the move for a couple of years.
And how did she choose this niche? She noticed that wedding dresses are often for sale on Craig’s List, which isn’t a particularly likely place to make a sale since someone would have to find your ad, share your taste and be your size to make it work. She also realized that there is not a store in Knoxville that features used wedding gowns year-round.
And why would there be a market for a used wedding dress? It’s pretty easy to imagine, actually. They are very expensive and are worn for anywhere from twenty minutes to five or so hours. To spend that much money for so little use might strike some people as a bit wasteful. She sells most of her dresses at half their original price.
You’ll find a few that are higher priced, running at about seventy percent of original cost. Why would that be, you ask? Well, they still have the tags on them. She says that about a third of the wedding dresses she’s taken in so far have never been worn. She quickly added that doesn’t imply the tragic story of a bride-to-be dumped at the last minute. Rather, she said, it’s not unusual for girls to wind up buying a dress then finding another they like better before the big day arrives. There lies another world of which I do not understand.
As I mentioned, she also has boots and party dresses and she pointed out a particularly attractive set of boots that she noted was a high-end brand. Willie Nelson, pressed into service, sat on a ladder among the boots. I must admit they did not look as if they had been worn at all. Willie looked pretty worn, of course. Urban woman almost grabbed a fancy dress for Urban Girl, but it turned out to be one size too large.
The shop also features metal jewelry hand-pounded by Faith Road Designs whom she met at the Market Square Farmers’ Market and Knock on Wood, locally hand-made art from re-purposed wood. I really liked their Tennessee-shaped wood, though I preferred the version without an inscription.
The storefront at 122 South Gay street has been empty for nearly two years since it was vacated by Cafe 11. Some of you may remember even further back when it was a clothing shop named “Eleven.” I talked to Margaret about the challenges for retail on the block. She feels that her business, being unique in nature, will attract people who are interested in that niche and she won’t be as dependent on foot traffic as some others might be. She also plans to offer online purchases in the near future.
Here’s wishing her success and welcome to the neighborhood. If you need a party dress or a nice set of boots you might want to check Bootleg Betty out. And as for wedding dresses, she continues to collect more, but currently has every size covered from “0 to 18,” which includes a bunch of prospective brides, so she’s your place for deals on wedding dresses. Check out the Facebook Page and the website, give them a “like” and spread the word and let’s help the newest business in the city get off to a great start. Her current hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM.