Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Nashville small business owner Geoffrey Lee to the show to discuss the loss of his businesses in the Christmas day bombing and the lack of support from local and state governments.
Leahy: We are joined now by Geoffrey Lee who is the owner of two small businesses called Ensemble and Simply the Best. He is a small business owner whose businesses were destroyed by the Nashville bombing on Christmas day. Good morning, Geoffrey. Thanks for joining us.
Lee: Good morning, Michael. How are you?
Leahy: Well, you know, it’s a troublesome day and it’s been a troublesome week. It’s been a troublesome previous year and 2021 is not starting off well. Of course, for you, Christmas Day did not start off well at all. Tell us what your Christmas morning was like.
Lee: Well, Christmas morning started out well. I was out back smoking a brisket at about 4:30 a.m. in the morning and my wife came running out at about 6 am and said that there had been a camper explosion. And you know, it’s Second Avenue so we were used to things happening. And then she came back out and said you’ve got to see this and it was horrific. I mean we realized that both of our stores, Ensemble was basically at ground zero, and the other store the $10.00 Boutique was up the street and it was obvious that in a blink of the eye we’d lost everything.
Leahy: So you don’t live on Second Avenue you live elsewhere in the city? Is that right?
Lee: We live in Mount Juliet.
Leahy: Okay, so you’re out there in Mount Juliet and you see this. What do you do after you see this happen?
Lee: Pray. (Chuckles) We knew that we couldn’t get in the car and get down there because it was obvious that everything was blocked off. And so we sat riveted to the TV and watched it unfold and it was horrible.
Leahy: What time did you finally get to take a look at what remained of your businesses?
Lee: Well, actually Michael we haven’t to date. Both of our buildings are in what they call the red zone which means that the buildings are unstable. The one building had collapsed in on itself. So there’s nothing to see. And the other building is deemed unsafe. So we have really not been able to see our stores. The first responders have pulled a couple of things from the front of the store that was not damaged in the bomb blast, which is incredible. But as far as seeing it we haven’t been there.
Leahy: So tell us a little bit about what each store had, what you sold, and how much business you would have at each one. Describe each store for us, please.
Lee: Simply the Best $10. The boutique is really iconic on Second Avenue. It’s been there for 11 years. It caters to the tourists. The tourists will come in and they love it because it’s all one price point. They grab their souvenirs. If they forgot a belt they grab a belt and if they need a scarf they got a scarf. So it was kind of like a go-to destination. The local concierge would send visitors to Nashville to the other store Ensemble, which was two doors up is a ladies fashion boutique fashion and accessories and it’s catered to easy to wear stuff.
Leahy: Now you started the first business called Simply the Best 11 years ago. When did you start Ensemble?
Lee: Six years ago.
Leahy: So did put your whole life savings into both these businesses?
Leahy: So where do things stand now? Do you have insurance? Do you have any government assistance? What’s your plan for your businesses now?
Lee: We do have insurance and thankfully it was not deemed domestic terrorism because that helps a great deal. and President Trump declared a national disaster zone so that helps with taxation. As far as other help we’ve had individuals reach out to us. We’ve had the downtown visitors bureau reach out to us.
We want to rebuild but we also are a realist and know that rebuilding where we were at is not going to happen. I mean, the buildings that we lost will not be salvaged. I mean they might salvage the front but that’s many years in advance. So we want to rebuild. We don’t know – we’re in a holding pattern right now.
Leahy: Now, did you own the building?
Lee: No, we don’t. We lease the building from a group out of Savannah, Georgia.
Leahy: Great. Can you hold through the break? We want to talk more about your plan to recover and what Nashville can do to help you.
Leahy: We were talking and you said you do have insurance. You haven’t been able to go back there yet. The inventory in the stores is basically gone and not usable?
Lee: Completely. I mean that the fixtures the inventory everything is gone. One building collapse in and of itself. So it’s just rubble right now and the other one the blast went through it.
Leahy: So it’s gone. And you do have some insurance. Have you received the insurance proceeds or that in the process right now?
Lee: It’s all in process.
Leahy: What percentage of what you need to start again are you going to are you getting from insurance?
Lee: Well, it’s really up in the air, Michael, because some of it comes down to basing your profitability on last year, which was a COVID year when we were down 65 percent versus the year before which is a true number. So there’s a lot of moving parts with regard to the insurance. So we don’t really know.
Leahy: The likelihood that you’re going to get enough back on insurance so that you can start again is what? What’s the probability you’ll get enough or maybe be a little bit short?
Lee: It will definitely be short. Particularly because of our insurance policies. I mean, like so many people we really didn’t keep up with them as we should have. When we started in 2011 the costs were quite a bit less than they are now. And especially with Nashville being the ‘it’ city is in a premium downtown.
Leahy: So do you have a plan for securing enough capital open again? Will you open both stores? And if our listeners are interested in helping is there a way that they can do that?
Lee: Yes, we’re going to start with one store. We would open up Simply the Best again, and we’re just looking for space. As far as help, we have a GoFundMe page and it can be found on EnsembleNashville.com.
Leahy: EnsembleNashville.com. How much have you raised so far?
Lee: We’ve raised almost $30,000 right now.
Leahy: Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?
Lee: That’s a good start. That’s a good start.
Leahy: But significant capital is required to open such a business. I think your plan makes an awful lot of sense. Geoffrey, you need space. Where are you looking for space right now? Now, what would make sense? Somewhere downtown?
Lee: Our business model is really based on tourism. So we’re looking in the downtown corridor. We’ve got a real estate agent that’s helping us. And hopefully some other business owners as far as those that own buildings downtown will reach out, also.
Leahy: And you need street level right?
Lee: We do.
Leahy: How many square feet are you looking for?
Lee: We’re looking for about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
Leahy: What’s the market like? Are there retail spots available outside the blast zone that might make some sense for you guys?
Lee: It’s tough. It’s too early to tell. Most building owners would rather lease to larger honky-tonks and what – not just from a revenue standpoint. And we get that. So it will difficult, but we have complete hope and faith that it will happen. And I guess we move on from there.
Leahy: Well, it sounds so that when you’re operating in a non-COVID environment. The Simply the Best $10 products that are tourist-oriented sounds like that would be you know something that would have you probably having decent revenue.
Lee: We had great revenue there. Yes. It was a wonderful situation.
Leahy: So let’s assume you do find a place. If there’s somebody that owns retail property out there right now and they’re looking for a tenant, how do they get in touch with you? What’s the best way to connect with you?
Lee: The best way is through my cell phone at 615-944-4062.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.