published Monday, December 17th, 2012

Bringing business back to Brainerd

Melanie Brooks-Settles opened MelRose Boutique in February 2012 near the tunnels on Brainerd Road, where she sells women's clothing and also has an art gallery. She and others want to promote the area as the Brainerd Road Arts District.
Melanie Brooks-Settles opened MelRose Boutique in February 2012 near the tunnels on Brainerd Road, where she sells women's clothing and also has an art gallery. She and others want to promote the area as the Brainerd Road Arts District.
Photo by John Rawlston.
Poll
Can Brainerd Road turn itself around?

Melanie Brooks Settles has heard customers reminisce about the days in the 1970s and '80s when Brainerd Road was the place for shopping.

She wants to bring those days back.

When Hamilton Place went up in East Brainerd and downtown development started, people who once came to Brainerd flocked instead to the larger mall and eventually to downtown.

But Settles has a vision for the mile stretch from the Brainerd Road tunnel to the Conoco gas station.

"We want to make it like the next Frazier Avenue," said Settles, referring to the main drag in North Chattanooga.

Settles and her father, Dr. Thomas Brooks, are touting a Brainerd Road Art District where artists will show their work on First Fridays, bringing interest and foot traffic to a road bustling with young entrepreneurs sharing space and advertising expenses to help reduce costs.

No more empty storefronts. No more clubs that bring trouble to the area.

Brooks owns two buildings on Brainerd, those housing the MelRose Boutique and Mocha's Restaurant & Music Lounge.

Settles, 30, manages the MelRose Boutique building and is marketing the district.

She will host a BRAD launch on the second weekend in January when two art galleries, the Walls of Color and the Unique Art of Floyd Gordon, will have grand openings. The galleries will feature one of the largest collections of contemporary and African-American art in Tennessee, said Brooks.

At the same time, Settles will mark the one-year anniversary of her store. She has already created a website at http://thebradonline.com that features all of the businesses and available retail space on the street.

Peggy Roselle, owner of Out of the Blue Cafe, says she appreciates the new way of marketing the area.

"We have a lot of vacant spaces we would like to see occupied," she said. "If people see this is a vibrant and growing community, they will be willing to put other businesses here."

The comeback started slowly.

Brooks purchased the old Deep Blue Club several years ago, after residents' complaints of noise and rowdy behavior got the club padlocked by court order in 2009.

MelRose Boutique opened in the space nearly a year ago.

Other businesses have been coming to the area, too.

MDT Personnel moved into the old bookstore at 3213 Brainerd Road in March, and Chattanooga Tshirt moved to 3201 Brainerd Road this month.

Michael Alfano, owner of the Comedy Catch -- a Brainerd Road fixture for 25 years -- said he's seen more businesses filling the street lately and is optimistic that the flow will continue.

The Brainerd Road Art District already includes several art framing and supply stores, a dog grooming service, restaurants, hair salon and photography studio. There's Mocha's Restaurant and Lounge, Mr. Happy's eatery and Kemit Photo and Hair Studio.

But there's plenty of space for more businesses -- about six buildings that sit empty and others that have retail space available.

The Glass Street area of Chattanooga is another neighborhood trying to revitalize.

Teal Thibaud, director of communications at the Glass House Collective that's helping to lead the effort, said the challenge for BRAD might be differentiating it from other specialty districts, such as Main Street.

She said communication has been a big part of the effort in the Glass Street area. Brainerd-area residents should decide what kind of businesses they want and get owners talking to learn what kinds of establishments would complement those that are already there.

Brooks said he has been doing that. In fact, it was at a community meeting that the discussion turned to limiting nightclubs and other issues, he said.

Gregory Jester, who has owned and operated Kemit Hair and Photography Studio for more than 20 years, says the Brainerd Road Art District has all it needs to be a successful retail community again.

Settles agrees.

"We want to bring it back to Brainerd," she said.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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