by Tom Bailey – The Commercial Appeal
The renaissance of the Broad Avenue Arts District now has attracted a different kind of business to go with the restaurants, art galleries, marketing agencies, pubs, dance studio, bike shops, bakery, coffee shops, brewery and other enterprises that have invested more than $30 million there over the past seven years.
The Germantown-based firm Simple Focus will move its headquarters office of 20 employees to a 107-year-old space at 2527 Broad, sandwiched between Bounty on Broad restaurant and 20twelve clothing shop. The space had been inhabited for about 25 years by the craft shop Archicast.
Founded by 35-year-old JD Graffam, Simple Focus helps companies make their websites and digital apps user-friendly. "You can call us a 'digital agency','' said the Farmerville, Louisiana, native and Millsaps College graduate. "We do digital product and digital marketing work.''
The company is spending about $1 million to renovate and move into the 7,200 square feet of the old Hanover Building. Graffam signed a 10-year lease with landlord Goode Development, which in 2012 bought the multi-bay building that includes Bounty on the corner at Merton.
Paul West, president of the Broad Avenue Arts District, this week noticed the start of exterior construction; the roof is being rebuilt. As resurgent as the district has been since the New Face for An Old Broad event jump-started reinvestment there in 2010, Broad still needs more people on the sidewalk, West said. And the office workers of Simple Focus adds to the population density.
"The missing element is people walking up and down the street,'' West said.
UrbanArch designed, and Hutzel Construction is building, the renovation that will feature a stylish, garage-type front door that can open the front, ground-floor space to the community. The feature should be especially accommodating for the district's art-walk events.
"We'll have a nice big open area in the front ... which will leave a lot of room for having meet-ups and hosting lectures and things like that,'' Graffam said. His vision displaying works of local artists on one wall.
J.D. Graffam, founder of the Germantown-based firm Simple Focus, talks about some of the renovations planned as the firm moves it's headquarters to a 107-year-old space on Broad Avenue. (Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)
An eight-foot-wide sliding-glass-door will allow the conference room to double as a dining room next to a full kitchen. A professional chef will come daily to prepare lunch for the staff.
"We get so busy at work we don't always get a chance to talk to our co-workers. So this gives us a chance at least once every day when we'll all sit around a table and talk about something besides work,'' Graffam said.
The design aims to preserve the century-old character of the architecture by keeping the brick walls, rafters and concrete floor exposed.
Anderson Clark carries scrap out of the former Archicast studio on Broad Avenue. Many of the casts of decorative molding, nudes and random pieces by artist Dan Spector were salvaged and will be auctioned as the owners prepare to renovate the old building. (Photo: Jim Weber/ The Commercial Appeal)
Graffam credited predecessors on Broad for pumping new life into the district. "It would be unfair to all the work that everybody in this neighborhood has put in to make it attractive to businesses like mine for me to come in and say 'Oh, look what we're doing to help the neighborhood'. We do want to be here to help the neighborhood, but not to take credit for it. ... It's fantastic,'' Graffam said.
While headquartered at 2130 West in Germantown, Simple Focus also has offices in Portland, Oregon, and Chattanooga. The business has outgrown its Germantown space. Graffam has 15 employees there now, with plans to soon hire another five.
Graffam and his family will continue to live in Germantown and so will another of his companies. Clear Function is a software development firm whose 10 employees have shared the building at 2130 West with Simple Focus. Clear Function will stay there and expand in the Germantown building.
Graffam considered nearly every commercial district in Memphis for a new home for Simple Focus. He chose Broad because of the available 7,200 square feet and its proximity to where many of his employees live and the "creative industry'' of Memphis.