When I first wrote about Reruns Boutique nearly two years ago, I said it was one of the oldest businesses still operating in downtown Knoxville. As owner Nanci Solomon made the announcement yesterday that the business will cease operation later this summer, and she and I sat down to talk about the business once again, we tried to think of businesses which might be older.
There may be a couple of restaurants – Pete’s which started on Locust Street, and Chesapeake’s on Union have been downtown for a similar amount of time, but they are restaurants. Tomato Head and Earth to Old City are more recent developments. Nouveau Classics started just a few years after Reruns, moved from downtown and returned. We couldn’t think of any retail businesses that pre-date Reruns. (Update: Someone with a much better institutional memory than mine pointed out two businesses operating in plain sight are much older and both are furniture stores: O.P. Jenkins (ca. early 1900s) and Vine Furniture (1944) have been around downtown for generations.)
Founded twenty-nine years ago, the business has essentially moved up and down Union Avenue, starting on the 400 block in the now-missing Sprankle Building, through the corner spot at Union and Market Square and, starting in 2010, in the Daylight Building. It’s interesting to consider that she started in a building doomed for demolition and ended in one that could easily have suffered the same fate, but instead has be brought back to life.
Along the way Nanci also opened Rala at 323 Union Avenue in 2010. She told me that wouldn’t have been possible without her experience and time at Reruns. Just last year online sales started on Ebay for Reruns and Nanci realized she was operating three businesses. Recognizing the need for an online store for Rala, a fourth venture loomed. It felt like the right time to simplify and focus on fewer projects at once.
It’s no secret that the retail clothing industry has shifted dramatically during the years Reruns operated downtown. Online sales have been the most recent tsunami in the industry. Meanwhile there has been another dramatic cultural shift toward locally or regionally produced goods from food to art and that’s what defines the core of Rala’s business model. The store is currently open 65 hours a week and will absorb all employees from Reruns. It makes sense to focus on that and develop that online presence (starting this fall), so Nanci has decided to direct her energies there.
Quick to list people who have been helpful to her along the way, she noted that the girls who have worked for her over the years played a major part in its success and longevity. She mentioned how great a landlord David Dewhirst has been for the last five years and she spoke fondly of her fellow merchants and friends in the Daylight Building. Notice went out to her most loyal customers yesterday because she didn’t want them to find out about the closure in the media. It’s all very personal with her.
Often thinking of others, Nanci wanted to make a point that two nice retail spaces are now or soon will be available in the Daylight Building. She imagines some young person with a great new idea, much as she was 29 years ago taking the space in an exciting direction. The openings are adjacent, so it may be possible for them to be combined into one larger space.
Rather than sell the business, which she considered, she decided to close it under her own terms. She feels good about what the business has accomplished and offered to the city and feels it has run its course. In a sense, it’s about respect for her customers, offering them good quality service to the end. She’s continued to enjoy the work and the closure has been emotional. She said it hasn’t been so much sad, as simply a recognition that an era of her life is ending and a new one is beginning.
Continue to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates on merchandise and, later this summer, for the official closing date. Prices for items will continue to be reduced weekly, so stop by often. And let Nanci know how much you appreciate her work for downtown.
Post-Watson’s Department Store she was one of the few businesses downtown offering a necessity during the bleakest retail period in the city’s history. The store closes on a new era in which we have a wider range of retail than we’ve had in a generation. She kept the flame alive and that’s worth celebrating.