It's All a Matter of Style at New Midtown Clothing Store

By Andy Meek

READY TO ROCK: Adrienne Klein is busy getting her eclectic clothing store, Tear It Up, off the ground in the Cooper-Young area. She opened the store to cater to people who want unique clothes items that can't be found at mainstream malls. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

In the world of rock 'n' roll, certain images are as seared into a fan's memory as the raucous sounds they love. Famous examples are the hip swivel of a truck driver from Tupelo and the cheeky vibe of a certain quartet from Liverpool, England.

They prove that presentation is everything, something Memphis business owner Adrienne Klein keenly understands. The same goes for having the right clothes - which this former Sun Studios employee insists can't exactly be found in a suburban shopping mall.

So earlier this year, she channeled her flair for the visual arts into bringing a new act onto the retail stage in Cooper-Young, one of the edgiest, most artistic neighborhoods in Memphis. On Feb. 1, she opened the clothing store Tear It Up, named after a favorite rockabilly song. The store carries such items as funky designer shoes and band T-shirts.

Image first, location next

In keeping with its theme, the choice of setting was important. Klein's address - 895 S. Cooper - puts her squarely in the middle of Midtown's vibrant music scene, with venues such as the Young Avenue Deli a stone's throw away. And that's why, amid the usual entrepreneurial ambitions of turning a profit and generating buzz, Klein also is eager for local musicians to stride through her door.

"The Shack Shakers are playing the Deli tonight, and I'm thinking they might wander in," she said. "But then again, I've only been open five days."

The groundwork already has been laid in her career to extend that for a long time to come. Klein and her husband, who's in the printing business, relocated to Memphis in 2001 after vacationing here. And like the rock pantheon's most crowd-pleasing anthems, the city had them hooked.

It was her husband's love of music - and how closely it's woven into the fabric of life in Memphis - that cinched the deal. After settling down, Klein went straight to work for Sun Studios.

"We didn't know a lot of people at first, but we looked around and found what we liked and didn't like, living-wise," she said. "And when I first got here, I was working for Sun doing wholesale buying for them."

"The store is unique in Memphis, and it will bring more people into the area."
- Kathryn Jordan
director of the Cooper-Young Business Association

Revolving around the Sun

Another Sun employee, Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy, is an acquaintance of Klein's and said he thinks her store will do well in Cooper-Young. McCarthy, whose recent projects include video work for the rock band The Hives, also filmed Klein and her husband in a recent music video he shot.

"They're both cool people, and she always looks like she was born in the past," he said.

The neighborhood is becoming a haven for such off-the-beaten-path shops. Last November, a similarly themed store opened nearby in Cooper-Young. Light Years Vintage, a retailer near Cooper and Nelson, stocks hard-to-find threads like vintage T-shirts. Not far outside the district, but still in Midtown, there's Flashback at 2304 Central Ave. that stocks such vintage items as jeans, shoes and jackets.

With more than a dozen ethnic restaurants, Cooper-Young already has a mouthwatering world banquet that draws outsiders to the area, so a retail addition is perhaps an even more exciting prospect, said Kathryn Jordan, director of the Cooper-Young Business Association.

"The store is unique in Memphis, and it will bring more people into the area," she said.

To make it work, Klein also can draw on the two-and-a-half years she spent working at the popular Memphis clothier Lansky Bros. There, she got a stream of feedback from people scouring the city for a certain style of merchandise - which Klein also longed for - but had nowhere to get it.

"So I just really got tired of myself not having somewhere to shop," she said. "Because of my working background and also my own personal interests, I just figured this was an open market for me to jump on."

Making her own rules

She also drew on the classic entrepreneurial spirit of wanting to be her own boss. After graduating college 10 years ago with a degree in visual merchandising and store design, Klein had another reason to ponder her solo act.

"I was a sales associate at Lansky's but pretty much took over the merchandising and the visual displays," she said. "I left there in January and opened here Feb. 1."

On a recent morning, she wandered among her displays and neat piles of T-shirts, still fretting over last-minute details while a CD by The Misfits played over the speakers. She's working on getting a Web site up and running, and she's still not sure her signage strikes the right note.

One way she avoids many of the headaches new business owners encounter is by keeping a short payroll list. For now, Klein's the only employee, which keeps costs down.

"That, and there's also not a whole lot of room," she said laughing, surveying her slightly cramped, 400-square-foot space.

So Klein is stealing a riff from the rock giants she admires who can build an ornate structure around a simple melody. Her colorful shop is the music, and a profitable future in the heart of Memphis is the elaborate plan she has for it.

"My hope and dream is just to last," she said. "I don't necessarily want to have a chain. I just want to be here and keep my prices reasonable.

"For someone who's into really unique things, if you're not wanting to shop in the mall and wear something that 10,000 other people have, you should come here."