Photo Gallery | Maine transplant says Memphis Life (and business!) is Good
(WMC-TV) - Where can you go shopping, improve your attitude, have a little fun and as the young people say, "chillax"? It's all at 100 Peabody Place at Main Street Downtown.
Even before you step inside Downtown's charming new "Life is Good" store, you're invited to take a load off. Four large and comfortable rocking chairs await your turn to people-watch along the Main Street trolley line. Inside and outside the new venue, "Owner/Optimist" Kelly Smith is spreading the "Life is Good" vibe.
"It makes people smile," Smith said. "That is the first and foremost thing that is very attractive. Not only is the Life is Good product quality amazing, it's comfortable and easy to wear. People love to be reminded to have a positive attitude to be optimistic."
The store sells all kinds of clothing and specialty items with an upbeat message.
A self-proclaimed life-long optimist, Smith moved to the Bluff City when her husband, a chemical engineer, was transferred by his employer.
"Our choices were Memphis or China. It was hands-down Memphis," she said.
The couple noticed Memphis' civic self-esteem challenges shortly after their arrival in 2007.
Here's how she tells it: "People asked us where we were from and we told them Maine. And their initial reaction was, 'Oh I'm so sorry you had to move to Memphis.' And we were so taken aback by that because we really like the opportunity to be here. We've never lived in a city. So to have theater and art and great restaurants and professional sports, these are things that were never easy for us. We'd always have had to travel to Boston three hours away so we are really enjoying it here."
Smith says because she has only a brief Memphis history, she doesn't have negative feelings about the city that faces significant economic and health challenges frequently noted in national magazines and websites.
The "Life is Good" line of products elicits smiles and a spirit of joy.
Smith says as far as the negative self-image some Memphians possess, "I'm hoping to change a little bit of that."
Smith owned a chain of resort sportswear stores in New England before she and her husband moved to Memphis. She took a marketing management job at AutoZone's corporate headquarters upon her arrival in the city.
"That's an amazing company. But I had never sat behind a desk in my entire career. That just didn't work for me."
So Smith began to explore opening a retail outlet downtown. She got excited about what was going on in Downtown Memphis from the Pinch District all the way down to South Main Street.
"There was so much development," she said. "I really saw Memphis as a great opportunity. So I really started to think about starting a business. There was no question it would be Downtown."The Life is Good Memphis store opened in late April to take advantage of the crowds coming Downtown for Memphis in May International Festival events. "Business was phenomenal, it has exceeded my expectations,"Smith said. The former Maine resident now testifies to the splendor of Southern hospitality. "Everyone from the Belz organization, my landlord, to C.B. Richard Ellis, the property manager, to the Downtown Neighborhood Association and all my neighbors, like restaurants Majestic, Blue Fin and the Center for Southern Folklore have been so helpful. They've helped me get off the ground correctly. These people know Memphis and I've had to rely on that." Although brand new on the Memphis retail scene, the Life is Good store has sponsored the Farmers Market "Crop-hopper 5K" and is one of the new sponsors of the Sweet 16th Gibson Guitar 5K for St. Patrick Community Outreach, Inc. "Trying to give back to your community is a big part of the Downtown neighborhood, Smith said. "One of the cool things about Life is Good and why I wanted to be in business with them is because they are a retail with a purpose which is all so amazing." The corporate leadership at Life is Good created LIDS for Kids, a fund raiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Now the national chain has created a Life is Good Kids Foundation where 10 percent of corporate profits go to the charity. Smith says she's hoping to start a Memphis chapter of the Life is Good Kids Foundation to work with children in poverty or crisis. In the meantime, Kelly Smith says she'll enjoy her store and her growing customer base that has made a screen printed shirt with the words "Half Full" a top seller. The shirt depicts a glass that is half full, reflecting the optimist's view of life. In the case of Memphis, Smith says she has another shirt (sold out at the moment) that features a bottle of barbecue sauce that also reads, "Half Full." Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.