Last winter I dropped in to talk to Josh Sidman, owner and operator of the Parlor at 411 S. Gay Street. I did not find him in a very good humor. Discouraged about the business, he seemed to be searching for the right direction forward. He found it – and it’s a good thing, though on the surface it might sound otherwise: He’s closing the shop downtown and opening at his original location at 726 Chickamauga Ave. in north Knoxville.
Recently posted on the Parlor’s Facebook page, I found this statement, “Well, folks, it’s official. After 2.5 years of serving the downtown community, The Parlor will be moving back to its original location at 726 Chickamauga Ave. in North Knoxville. We will continue to offer vintage instruments, repairs & lessons, as well as a selection of vintage clothes and collectibles. The move will take place in August, and we will post additional info as we get closer to the move. As always, thanks for your ongoing support!”
I stopped in yesterday to find Josh in a much improved state of mind. He said he feels confident, after a lengthy consideration, that he’s doing the right thing by moving the business back to its original home. He owns the building and thus will have a lower overhead. He’s renovating the upstairs of the building to prepare a home and giving up his lease in Lerner Lofts. He’ll cut his costs tremendously.
We discussed the other end of the business equation, as well: profits. If you give up prime real estate on Gay Street for a building on Chickamauga, how does that work? The answer is that his best business isn’t from walk-in traffic. Additionally, the population density downtown may not yet be high enough to support an instrument store. How many guitars and mandolins can our number of downtown residents purchase? I’ve bought guitar strings there, but that size purchase will hardly keep a business operational.
He took over the operation of the business from Matt Morelock in early 2013. Matt started Morelock Music there in 2010 before moving to Hawaii. Josh gradually shifted the branding from Morelock Music to The Parlor and gradually shifted the instrumental merchandise to include only hand-crafted and vintage instruments. He said there were a few vintage clothing items when he arrived and they sold so quickly that he expanded that line to much success – from western wear, including cowboy boots, to vintage coats.
More recent developments have included a major sales surge via social media. The Parlor has accumulated over 2,000 Instagram followers in just six months and Josh expects that to grow. He also does a significant business via their Ebay Store. Perhaps the strangest phenomenon in recent months has been the surge in their belt-buckle sales. It’s resulted in an entire case of belt-buckles of various sorts and that has necessitated his new selection of belts.
But all his best revenue sources are not dependent on an expensive Gay Street address. As a practical matter, it just makes economic sense to move the business. He said that one of his biggest reasons to hesitate for so long is that he didn’t want to be a business that “let everyone down.” Instead, I’d say he did well to operate such a store in the city for two-and-a-half years. It’s a loss, for sure and it has been a very cool part of downtown for several years – but as a practical matter, it didn’t need to be in the heart of the city.
We are losing the only place with which I’m familiar to take music lessons downtown. We are losing the largest selection of acoustic instruments and gear downtown. We are losing one of the largest purveyors of vintage clothing downtown. Certainly we are losing the largest supplier of cool belt-buckles, though that won’t particularly rock my world. Mostly, north Knoxville is gaining a very cool business and a guy who is genuinely attempting to deliver a quality product.
He’ll be in place through August, so you still have time to drop in a say, “goodbye,” or to pick up an instrument – or a belt-buckle. Definitely follow him on Instagram, like The Parlor on Facebook and check out the Ebay Store. Apparently plans are underway for the use of the space being vacated and I’ll bring you more about that as soon as I get the details.