Remember when last we talked about Bootleg Betty on the 100 block? The wedding and formal dress re-sale store opened in July of 2014 and I introduced you to owner Margaret Stanley. A year later the story took a turn when Margaret took a position which precluded her continuing the store personally, but she wanted it to survive. In what is a unique move in recent downtown business protocol, she offered the business for auction. But what happened after that?
That’s where today’s story begins. I’ve had a number of people ask me what happened. Did anyone bid? Was there a winner? Is the business still open and is it under new ownership? The short answer is that Margaret accepted the bid from Jennifer Rogers, feeling that she was the right person to continue to build the business. I recently met with Jennifer to learn more about her and the state of the business.
Technically from Bristol, Jennifer moved a lot, thanks to her dad’s job with Associates Financial. She lived in eleven states in seven years, but landed in Knoxville in 1989 and outside of a couple of years in Connecticut, she’s been here ever since. After graduating from Bearden High School in 1994, she got married, had a child and studied pre-med at Western Carolina.
As her child grew, she ponder her next move. After seeing a canine bakery in Chattanooga, she decided Knoxville should have one and rather than seek a franchise, she opened her own version with Bone-A-Fidos in 2001, serving up her own recipes for dog treats. She noted that the bread she tried to bake during that era was so hard only a dog could eat it and she decided to make lemonade out of lemons.
The store was open on Bearden Hill next to Calhoun’s and probably is one of the few dog treat stores in history to sell beer, mixers and cork screws. Located next to a liquor store which was prohibited from selling those items due to our arcane state laws regulating alcohol sales, she saw an opening and took advantage. The liquor store sent her customers – especially from out of state – who were confounded by the strange laws. She also catered to doggie birthday parties, which I certainly never knew was a thing.
In 2003 disposable income seemed to be on the decline and she closed the store, going into the mortgage business with her father who was by this time both retired and bored. She had gotten her real estate license in 2000 and the two together were able to offer full services to sell, purchase, finance or close your home. Ultimately, of course, the housing market crashed.
What followed was another period of being a mom and a volunteer. She worked “Read to Me” and Princess events at Children’s Hospital as well as working for Child Help USA. She told me that she had a brain tumor in 2007 which was pressing on her optic nerve and severely limiting her peripheral vision. Surgery was successful and her vision became normal for the first time in her life. She feels that her illness and her volunteer work have been good for her children, now nine, eleven and nineteen, to see, as they’ve joined her in visits to Children’s hospital witnessing children in very difficult circumstances.
She saw the article I wrote about the auction last summer when it popped up on her feed on Facebook. She felt it was a perfect match for her and Margaret agreed she was the person to take the business. She’s continued to maintain contact with Margaret, who has been very helpful, but she noted that thanks to Margaret’s organizational skills, the business was really easy for someone new to step into.
It’s a business she’s enjoying. She loves the fact that girls can get amazing dresses they might have thought they couldn’t afford. She also enjoys the challenge of running a business and the fact that it’s unique to Knoxville. She loves the excited girls who are in love and she said it’s reminded her of that fresh feeling of a new relationship and helps her remember to appreciate the relationship she has with her husband.
An interesting percentage of her business comes from out-of-town or out-of-state. She mentioned a gay couple who drove from upper east-Tennessee to shop there because they had trouble finding a shop which would welcome them. While I was there a man from out-of-state wandered in scouting stores for his wife and daughter who will join him on a later trip. He said they enjoy unusual boutiques and that they will love her store.
A few surprises have emerged. She realizes now how much demand there is for used wedding and formal dresses and it surprises her the need hadn’t been met in Knoxville before. She’s also been happy to realize how safe she feels downtown and how friendly her neighbors and visitors to downtown have been.
She continues to carry many similar items to those Margaret initiated. She still carries Suzani boots, shoes, jewelry and many other small items. The wood work sold by Margaret is no longer available, but a new vendor is on the way. She has a very large selection of wedding dresses which represented 90% of the stock when she took the store. She’s working to shift to a larger percentage of formal dresses, while continuing to maintain a good selection of wedding dresses.
This spring she plans to branch out from the store and introduce something Knoxville’s food trucks have yet to offer: a food truck for dogs. She notes that Knoxville routinely makes top ten lists in canine-related tallies, such as money spent on dogs and dog parks per capita. She plans to move her truck around to places with high concentrations of dogs, like dog parks, where she’ll offer treats, water and frisbees. The truck has already been purchased and is a short school bus which she’ll call the Mobile-Biskit-Waggin’. She’ll also offer home delivery.
Stop in and introduce yourself and get to know another business person helping make downtown a more livable, functioning city.