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VOL. 125 | NO. 162 | Friday, August 20, 2010

Downtown Incentives

New South Main businesses open with CCC’s aid

AISLING MAKI | Special to The Daily News

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Eric David Evans, designer and co-founder of Sachë clothing, screens designer T-shirts in the store at 525 S. Main St.
Photos: Lance Murphey

Two unique, upscale retailers have opened their doors in the South Main Historic Arts District with the help of financial incentives from the Center City Commission.

Charlotte Memphis, a fine jewelry store, now occupies 526 S. Main St., while Sachë Design, a boutique specializing in apparel and accessories designed onsite, recently opened directly across the street at 525 S. Main.

The Center City Commission’s program, launched in July 2008, disperses forgivable $35,000 to $40,000 loans, and façade grants of up to $30,000, to approved small retail businesses agreeing to set up shop in a designated area, which runs from Front Street east to the Edge District and from G E Patterson Avenue in the south to A.W. Willis Avenue.

“Our goal from a business perspective is that we do entice unique retailers. Our goal is to attract local and regional retailers that are eclectic and full of personality,” said Lisa Brumleve, manager of business recruitment and retention for the CCC.

“The majority of these retailers are working in their stores. With the way the economy’s been, people want more and more to support that type of retailer. To walk into a business and do business with the owner means a lot to a lot of people.”

One of those working owners is Sarah Worden, 33, of Charlotte Memphis, who said she first spotted her new storefront while enjoying the neighborhood during a South Main Art Trolley Tour night.

“I’m involved with MPACT Memphis, which got me coming Downtown more often,” said the Midtown resident. “I came down on a trolley night and saw the ‘for rent’ sign. The curtains were closed but I thought, ‘I bet that’s just the perfect spot.’”

Worden began working for a subsidiary of Charlotte Ehinger-Schwarz 1876, a family-owned German company with 38 international locations but only two stateside, at their Germantown store in 2003.

By 2005, she’d become its manager, and in 2007, she purchased 50 percent ownership of the Saddle Creek store.

But the store suffered a serious decline in sales during the economic downturn, which resulted in the subsidiary that still co-owned the store going out of business.

Eric David Evans, designer and co-founder of Sachë clothing, adjusts custom made T-shirts in the store at 525 S. Main St.

“If I really didn’t truly love the product, I would’ve just moved on to something else,” Worden said of the interchangeable collection of fine jewelry that allows customers to design their own by collecting different accents and centerpieces.

“I started looking for an alternative where the cost of the rent would be less.”

She remembered seeing a Facebook friend’s post regarding financial incentives for new businesses in Downtown Memphis. She logged onto the CCC’s website and began the application process.

She was approved for a five-year forgivable loan, and with Worden as sole proprietor, Charlotte Memphis opened it doors in late June.

The products are the same, but the vibe, she said, has changed entirely.

“The entire Saddle Creek concept has changed and small-business owners can’t survive in that corporate structure. Each individual store is a destination. The mall itself is not a destination, so they don’t get that foot traffic,” she said.

“In South Main, the expenses are a lot less. I like the flexibility of not being in a mall structure. I can set my own hours. It has all the things that help a small business survive.”

Her neighbors across the street at the new Sachë Design have also been pleased with their decision to move into the district.

“I couldn’t speak more highly of our neighbors. Everyone here is so friendly and supportive. It’s really something special,” said designer and co-owner Eric Evans, who, along with business partner John Sylvester, opened the wearable art boutique last month.

Evans, 24, studied art at Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Memphis. Evans, whose designs include clothing, album covers and books, was introduced to Sylvester, 31, a business consultant who’s worked in the entertainment industry, when both were doing work for Memphis-based band FreeSol.

“Eric was working from his garage and just doing really well. He had a business that spent zero dollars in marketing and advertising costs, yet he was constantly busy,” said Sylvester. “I saw him sign a check and I thought, ‘That needs to be on a T-shirt.’ His work is just brandable.”

Sylvester, also an MPACT member, learned about the CCC’s financial incentives for small businesses from Worden at an MPACT meeting.

“So, I called Eric and we created a strategic plan, and we brought it before the board of the Center City Commission,” said Sylvester, adding that he started the application process in early 2010.

“One of the things that really drew us to this area was, first and foremost, the financial leverage. This area has enormous potential. The historic bleeds into what we want to do with our clothing lines. The other thing is the vibrancy of this area.”

In July, the pair opened Sachë Design, which Evans described as “more of a cultural lifestyle experience than it is a retail shopping experience.”

“We create everything in our Downtown store. Each piece on display has a museum placard that explains the purpose of the piece,” said Evans, whose longtime nickname is Sachë.

In addition to a five-year forgivable loan, Sachë Design was also approved for a façade grant to spruce up the courtyard wall that faces Earnestine and Hazel’s. Sylvester said they plan to create a 50-foot mural that bridges the past, present and future.

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