In July 2019, Jenny Salata and April Burger opened French Fried Vintage at 1520 North Central Street. Dealing mostly with vintage clothes, though they have a few other vintage items, the two saw the store as a continuation of their mutual love of vintage fashion and their desire to offer a more eco-friendly alternative to the current fashion industry. They love North Knoxville and were excited to get started.
The response out the gate was good and they began finding like-minded people. About eight months after the shop opened the pandemic struck and they were forced to alter their business model. When the pandemic struck, they began working their social media accounts harder and increased followers. With their low overhead, the business continued to be profitable even as they sold online and either shipped or had pickup outside the door.
Another turning point came in the fall of 2020 when April’s daughter, Nora, who is now ten-years-old, became eligible for a heart transplant which she had needed from birth. It required that April, her husband, and Nora move to Nashville to await a viable heart and then remain there months for after-care. Nora required a hundred days of hospitalization during a time the pandemic was ravaging the hospitals. Fortunately, Nora has had a great recovery and is now playing soccer.
She had been the primary presence at the store while Jenny taught French at UT. Since the two were the only employees, Jenny decided it was time to leave her teaching job (she also wasn’t loving teaching virtually) in order to devote her full energies to the business.
Jenny said she has no regrets of walking away, though it was hard decision. She feels it has helped the business grow and “there’s nothing better than working for yourself.” Once April returned, the business continued to grow. After one part-time employee moved away, they began hiring, eventually adding three employees, which allowed the two of them more time for buying, planning, and growing the business.
And while online sales were good during the worst of the pandemic, the two really want to sell locally and have returned the focus to in-store shopping (though online merchandise remains available). Customers returned in force, as well as new the new faces of some who had discovered the store through Instagram during the pandemic. Business grew in 2021 over 2020 and maintained those new levels during 2022.
The two opened the business with a five-year-plan that included moving into a larger location. Their inventory has grown significantly (and they have lots more in April’s garage, just waiting to be added) and they pointed out that even with ten customers in the store at one time it feels crowded. April said, “Our current location is about 800 square feet and we were looking back at old photos” and realized how much they’ve added. “Right now we have the maximum amount of things in there for it to still be shopable.”
That prompted them to start a search for a new space in January of 2022, “And we signed a lease in February.” While they signed a lease then, at 7 Emory Place, the terms allowed them to delay rent until the space was ready for their buildout. That is now underway and nearly finished with some work continuing and inspections to follow.
As part of the changeover, they’ve adopted a bright new color scheme (which Louis Vuitton in NYC has apparently copied) and they’ve gotten serious about developing their website, which is still under construction, but already pretty helpful to connect you to all things French Fried Vintage. Jenny said, “We’re taking a lot of things to the next level. It’s going from a very DIY business to a ‘real’ business.” April added, “I feel like its a whole new level.”
The new address will include a total of 1800 square feet. About 1200 of that will be retail and the other 600 will be restrooms, office space, a break room, a laundry area (they do a lot of laundry), and storage for excess merchandise. The additional space will allow them to host more events to be a bigger part of efforts such as First Friday. The new location, in Emory Place, just across from Crafty Bastard and adjacent to art galleries, also puts them at more of a hub of pedestrian activity and much closer to downtown.
They are also planning to make more branded merchandise available and hope to partner with local artists to develop that. For online sales, merchandise is much easier to promote and stock than individual piece of vintage wear, which have to be cleaned, photographed, described, posted, have a percentage taken for fees, and then shipped. It’s a labor-intensive process which adds to the cost of the items. With branded merchandise it’s much simpler.
They pride themselves on having items that are affordable to everyone. They shoot for having a number of items in the $30 range. The era included is the 1950s to, incredibly, the early years of this century. “Vintage is twenty years old.” The early 2000’s wear sells immediately at this point. Most of the merchandise is clothing and it’s constantly changing as items move and more are put on the floor.
They are at a point where in order to grow, they have to have a larger space and a location closer to downtown. That brings a much larger rent. Jenny said, “This is definitely the biggest financial risk we’ve taken.” Thinking of paying utilities in the larger space, April said, “I told our employees to dress for the weather. We may be wearing swimsuits in there in the summer.” Jenny said it is as simple as, “We’ve maxed out where we are.” They also feel the new place will fill a bit more elevated and “less thrifty.”
They also feel the new location will be conducive to longer hours. At the current location (1520 North Central), they are open seven days a week, “but none of our neighbors are open late.” While they open at noon every day, they close at 5:00 pm on Sunday and at 6:00 pm each day the remainder of the week. They are thinking they may open from 10:00 am each day and remain open until 8:00 pm, though hours on Sunday may be a bit shorter.
They hope to open this spring and would love to have at least a pop-up in the space for Big Ears. Expect to see photos here when it is ready and beautiful.
In the meantime, you can stay connected with them through their website, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and their Youtube channel. If you like to help with some cash flow during the transition, one option is to purchase a gift card. Physical cards are available in the store and digital cards are available here. You can also text “Join” to 844-246-7951 for monthly texts alerting users to sales or special offers.