The trends in today’s fast-paced, online world may feel like the slow death of the brick and mortar store. But after an afternoon visit with Joel Rose and Jenean Morrison the week after Valentine’s Day, one would say that it is absolutely alive.
It is alive and well in the hearts of this husband and wife team of shopkeepers who see the value in offering their creations to the community they have grown to love and have invested in.
“Since opening the shop, we find ourselves much more thrust into the heart of the creative community in our city, which is very large and diverse,” said Joel. “And vulnerability is really at the heart of it – the human interaction that you don’t really get when you are sitting at a computer sending your art into the world. It is really a different experience here….it is an intimate and vulnerable thing.”
Vulnerable? It would be a topic for later discussion.
Joel and Jenean have been married for almost 12 years, but their individual creative pursuits began years earlier.
Joel is a photographer, writer and author – his books include Haunted City and Never Mind, Never Mine – as well as a Memphis & Los Angeles filmmaker with a terrific cinefile blog called Pure Cinema.
Jenean’s passions fall into the painting and design categories with her business, Jenean Morrison Art and Design. Her designs can be found on canvas, textile, and paper products. She broke ground in the recent adult coloring book craze with an Amazon bestseller – Flower Designs Coloring Book – featuring her patterns and designs. Her coloring books have been published worldwide.
Breaking New Retail Ground
In 2013 the couple hosted a pop-up shop in Midtown to test the waters of running a brick and mortar shop. They knew the interest was there – the dream was definitely there within their own hearts – but the timing was just not right. As busy artists with days full of freelance work, they never seemed to have enough time freed-up in their schedules at the same time.
Then in 2013 they purchased the home located on 889 South Cooper Street. The dream of being shopkeepers one day seemed a little bit closer while they continued pursuing their individual careers.
Fast forward to 2017. The business owners they had leased their property to decided to relocate, and the husband and wife team found themselves faced with a choice: to pursue a new tenant for the shop; or take a leap, combining their love of all things art and design, and open the long-dreamed about shop.
“There is a saying,” Joel said with a laugh. “The net doesn’t appear until you take the jump.”
The time was finally right for the couple to take this leap of faith in a shop. The Cooper-Young Gallery and Gift Shop was born.
The quaint little white house on South Cooper has a timeless Midtown ascetic and style, and the couple did not modify the structure. When Jenean was designing the logo that now hangs in the front yard of the home she envisioned a sign that would truly represent the welcoming feel of the neighborhood, an unofficial gateway into Cooper-Young. If that isn’t enough to draw the visitor into the space, the front window – a perfect marriage of art and design that changes to reflect the various holidays and seasons – will beckon any passers-by with its beautiful, delightful framework of what lies behind the bright blue front door.
“We had a friend that lives in Cooper-Young tell us that our slogan needs to be that we sell happy,” Jenean recounts with a smile.
And smile-invoking it truly is. From the bright wall colors to the whimsical designs of the products throughout, the store is a bright and cheery space. Joel readily admits that Jenean is responsible for the majority of the ordering of the inventory. “She is so good at not only creating the art,” he said, “but she has met so many artists over the years nationally, internationally as well as locally, she knows where to go to get the best items to go together with our aesthetic. Loosely we thought of it as something similar to a museum gift shop.” When sourcing products the couple tries to find a good mix of local artist and creators, and items that which Midtowners, Memphians and tourists have not been exposed.
It is a formula that works. As you walk through the store, there is a seamless blend of styles, textures, and products, with each room and its contents telling a story. The couple has truly put their heart and soul into space, evident from the moment you walk through the door.
Vulnerability Is Where It’s At
Putting your heart into something – whether they be something creative and artsy, a business, or even a relationship – carries with it a bit of fear. With creative endeavors one makes the choice of exposure, and within the process there is vulnerability, an opening at our most basic human level to the possibility of being attacked. Call it life at its fullest: that combination of being genuine, authentic and open to life’s possibilities.
“Whether you are talking about a personal friendship or a business, people can detect phoniness. If you don’t have something real in there you can’t connect with people through your products and art in business,” Joel said.
Opening a business requires that same vulnerability; putting your passions and ideas – putting yourself – out there to the community to be judged, good, bad or indifferent.
And one hopes, in turn, when and if the community responds to your ideas, products and dreams, a beautiful, organic, and sometimes messy process becomes the only true path to an authentic connection to your community. As Jenean so eloquently stated it: “I could spend years making the shop beautiful, doing everything I could to make it the best…and when we open the doors someone is still going to come in and not like it. So I just have to make it something I like and that I am happy with. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will be some people’s cup of tea. That is what gave me the courage to go forward.”
In the age of online shopping, where virtually anything is available and right at your fingertips, brick and mortar shops are continually being challenged to find ways to do it better, offering something the online world cannot. Besides being authentic, another way Joel and Jenean have found to do this is in reaching out to their community and offering their shop as a place to gather for book clubs, community meetings, and also classes and workshops to learn a new craft or hone an old one.
This personal, face-to-face interaction is something the virtual world simply can’t offer (one could say this type of engagement is something we as a community need more of). It requires creativity and, once again vulnerability to take the leap to try new and different things in keeping your style fresh and people engaged.
Being vulnerable enough to put one’s passions out there – well, that may be the very essence of what style is. Joel and Jenean are sharing theirs in Cooper-Young.