Tucked away around the corner from Market Square (next to Coffee and Chocolate at 323 Union Ave.), a new shop window catches the eye with homemade items like record albums pressed into bowls and glazed coffee cups with water-color argyle patterns. And the door is always invitingly left open during business hours.
Räla, standing for "Regional and Local Artisans," is an art consignment store that showcases wares from artists all over the country but focuses on artists from around Knoxville and the South.
The brain trust behind Reruns, the nearby used clothing boutique, came up with this second concept. Nanci Solomon, owner of Reruns for 23 years, decided to open up another store when space two doors down became available, applying the same consignment, local flavor, and low price concepts that she's honed with her first store. Räla opened in June.
Bran Rogers, whose distinctive plywood art was displayed at Räla for the June First Friday, can attest to the power of Solomon's evocative exhibitions. Half of his art at that First Friday was sold after a day, and the rest sold in the next few weeks. "The store has great visibility with foot traffic, and Nanci is probably the queen of window displays on the Square," Rogers says. "I don't think there's anyone who doesn't notice the Reruns windows."
Jenna Hancock, manager at Reruns and Räla, says Räla stands out in Market Square. "Quirky things, light-hearted things, we're appealing to people who come downtown and want to find something unusual and different," she says.
Räla carries prints and paintings as well as more "useful and practical" art, Hancock says, like screen-printed dish towels and aprons, handmade soaps, and bath-and-body products. "We even have toasters and salt and pepper shakers of all things," she says.
One of the more popular and eye-catching parts of the store is its greeting-card rack, which sits right next to the door. Hancock, who studied art at the University of Tennessee, says the handprinted cards are one-of-a-kind and not like the manufactured ones you might see at Walgreens, both in tone and execution. "A lot of cards are even blank inside because the art kind of speaks for itself," she says. One such card depicts a bird with an eyepatch, sitting on top of about 10 coffee cups. Another blank-inside card has a mother looking away while she nurses her child.
Räla's postcards are even farther removed from the typical. One series features pictures of animals, with pages from the dictionary printed in the background. The magnets are pretty unusual, too, like one with a picture of World's Fair Park or the numerous anti-artist themed ones—an elderly woman wishing death upon herself if her daughter marries an artist, for example.
Hancock says the store appeals to younger people not just for the humor, but also for the prices. "We're staying away from craft and going more toward art, but it's not quite like a gallery space," she says. "And if you can't drop $500 on an expensive painting at a gallery, you can come by Räla and buy something that's a little piece of talent."
Räla offers comparative prices in areas you might not expect. Homemade greeting cards, like the one with the bird and coffee cups, cost around $4, about the price of a manufactured card at Walgreens. Postcards are about $2. Art pieces like Rogers' sell for about $45.
Räla does order items from etsy.com, the online handmade marketplace, but anyone is welcome to come in, pick up a list of guidelines, and send pictures of their art for consideration. (Guidelines are also on the Räla blog site:
Räla works on consignment, with 60 percent of proceeds going to the artist and 40 percent going to Räla, and market items remaining in the store for 60 days. "All of our wares are going to be ever-changing," Hancock says. "We've already turned over a lot of stuff, so every time you go into Räla, there's bound to be something different."
More than being a local business, Hancock says staff hope Räla can promote local and regional artistry and "show off what we can do.
"And it doesn't have to be a museum," she says. "It's art on display right around the corner."