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VOL. 37 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 22, 2013

Small shops of East Nashville are a big hit

By Bill Lewis

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The Idea Hatchery features nine businesses, each paying monthly rent in the $500-$600 range. Its success inspired the opening of Shoppes on Fatherland.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

While visiting Nashville for a John Prine and Steve Earle concert at the Ryman Auditorium, Minnesota residents Gene and Maureen Greden found themselves shopping for fine leather goods at the Idea Hatchery, an enclave of East Nashville shops in spaces no larger than the average suburban dining room.

Two blocks away, Colleen and Joe Lentini were preparing for the 100-mile drive home to Sparta after browsing at the Shoppes on Fatherland, a collection of 23 retailers ranging from just 192 square feet to 800 square feet.

“Shopping here is more personal,” says Colleen Lentini.

The couple were shopping at Red Dog Beads for one-of-a-kind materials for the Western jewelry they create and sell at shows across the country.

“Designers can’t just go to Hobby Lobby. Your jewelry has to be unique,” she says.

Tourists discover East Nashville

In the same way, tiny retailers can’t simply sell the same items at Walmart or Macy’s. The uniqueness of the Shoppes on Fatherland and the Idea Hatchery – from the goods they sell to their location in East Nashville’s trendy Five Points district – has positioned them to compete with major retailers and to attract customers from Antioch to Australia.

At Hello Boys, a contemporary and vintage men’s clothier in the Idea Hatchery, eight of 10 customers are tourists, explains proprietor Gavin O’Neill.

They’ve escaped the Disneyland atmosphere of Lower Broadway and Second Avenue in search of the authentic Nashville.

“We have at least 10 Australians a week. New York, Chicago. People who love to travel and want to know what Nashville is all about,” says O’Neill.

The store is so successful it has to restock its shelves and clothes racks every week, he says.

On the same day the Gredens were shopping for leather goods next door at Alegria, Ryan Arnold and Kristy Lahiatto were browsing at Hello Boys.

Arnold, who lives in Denver, and Lahiatto, of Boston, arranged to meet in Nashville for the weekend. They crossed the Cumberland River for a meal at another local Five Points business, Mad Donna’s restaurant, just steps away on Woodland Street.

“We picked Nashville randomly,” says Arnold. “We’ve never been here.”

Smaller, better, authentic

Red Dog Beads and High Garden Tea are among the businesses at Shoppes on Fatherland, which was launched a year ago. Only two stores have left in that time, both going to larger spaces.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

The Idea Hatchery was the brainchild of Brett and Meg McFadyen, whose Art & Invention studio is next door. They also founded one of East Nashville’s most popular summertime events, the Tomato Art Fest.

The couple had watched as larger-scale ideas for retailing in East Nashville failed to launch. By 2011, when the Idea Hatchery opened, they concluded that retail boutiques could thrive in small spaces with rents ranging from $500 to $600 per month.

“It’s a ‘shops on Main Street’ idea. Responsibility, commitment and community,” says Brett McFadyen. “These are authentic events and developments.”

Inspired by the success of the Idea Hatchery’s nine businesses at 1106 Woodland St., developer Mark Sanders established the Shoppes on Fatherland one year ago at the corner of Fatherland and South 11th streets. His company, Martin Corner, also developed the MC3 condominiums next door.

The Shoppes on Fatherland is expanding to the other side of South 11th with new retail and restaurant spaces now under construction.

Like the Idea Hatchery, Sanders keeps rents low – $460 to $900 per month – and doesn’t require retailers to sign leases longer than 12 months.

“A one-year commitment and see if your business is going to take off,” he says.

They have. Statistics vary, but anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent of new small businesses fail within 18 months. At the Shoppes on Fatherland, 80 percent of the original stores are still there. Two of them are moving into the new space at 1100 Fatherland St. Two new stores immediately signed leases for their former spaces.

Taking a risk, being selective

Sanders has been selective about the retailers he’s allowed into the Shoppes on Fatherland. Certain businesses that might be at home on nearby Gallatin Road didn’t make the cut.

“We’ve turned down e-cigarettes, tattoo parlors, hair extension salons,” says Sanders. “It was a calculated risk.”

That gamble has paid off, he says. “East Nashville supports our businesses, but a lot more shoppers are coming in from Brentwood and Green Hills across the river, and tourists.”

Leah and Joel Larabell, proprietors of High Garden Tea, always wanted their own retail space but the cost of leasing a traditional space was prohibitive.

“You look at renting a space and skyrocketing bills,” says Leah Larabell. “But you can have a tiny little shop like this and it works. It’s a way a small business can compete with big businesses.”

Customers can buy their hand-blended teas in the shop or find them at other authentic-Nashville establishments, including the Frothy Monkey and Silly Goose restaurants.

Todd Reynolds and Travis Brown had so much success with their first place in the Shoppes on Fatherland – Baxter & Bailey luxury products for pets – that three months ago they opened Abode, selling gourmet and local foods and gifts for people.

Reynolds and Brown could be called accidental entrepreneurs. The handmade treats they baked for Baxter – who along with Bailey is a rescue dog – proved popular with friends who wanted to buy them. The partners began selling items online and then jumped at the opportunity to open a bricks and mortar store at the Shoppes on Fatherland.

Customers come “from all over the city, international tourists and all over the country,” says Reynolds. “They come over the bridge and it’s a fun experience.”

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