Originally published in April, 2019
By Kelly King Howe
In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice in his Iowa cornfield telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” With that inspiration Ray Kinsella steps forward in faith and builds a baseball field with no experience and no real business plan.
In downtown Memphis there are no cornfields, and Daryl Andrews and Ashley Parham didn’t exactly hear voices coming from the sky telling them to build a store, but they did take a leap in faith in August of 2016 when they signed a lease on a vacant storefront at 109 G.E. Patterson, just down the street from the iconic Arcade Restaurant.
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With that faith and a very unorthodox business plan Walking Pants Curiosities was born. And oh the people have come. From every state in the union and sixteen countries they have come.
“That is the thing that blows our minds,” Daryl Andrews said. “We are still in awe – it’s all been bigger than us.”
In the Beginning
Daryl and Ashley met online in 2016. “We both swiped right,” Ashley said with a giggle. But it was over a year before the two met for an official date.
During that time Ashley – she was taking a real estate course – had deleted all social media from her phone and computer to avoid the distraction. When she finally got back online, she saw where Daryl had written her several times.
“He had sent me pictures of the outside of the store. When we had talked previously, we had discussed how I had always wanted to own a boutique.”
Ashley and Daryl finally had the long-awaited date on April 18th, 2017, and their shared dream of a storefront in the heart of downtown Memphis began to gain momentum. After looking at the space in April, they were told that another person was looking at the property and was ready to sign on the dotted line. With that they knew the time had come to get real about their dream.
After getting the support and blessing of their parents, they signed the lease on August 20th, 2017 and began to work in earnest to make Walking Pants a reality.
“We knew we had something special here,” said Daryl. “We just knew this was the space we needed to be in for some reason.”
And the business model? “It is not necessarily how most people start their businesses,” he went on. “It’s not a normal business plan. But none of it has been, and I think that is one of the reasons it has been so impactful.”
Not knowing how they would be received in the neighborhood, Ashley painted the front window with chalkboard paint and a sign introducing themselves to the community. They put out business cards for people to take as they readied the space. They created window displays with things they were bringing in to peak the interest of people as they passed by. After a lot of elbow grease, paint, and creativity, the store opened on September 29th, 2017.
What exactly is “Walking Pants?”
Daryl brings over 20 years of experience in the architectural and construction fields to the project. Along with Ashley’s design and real estate experience, the two combined to create The Most Curious Gift and Art Un-General Store Ever Before Found In Historic Downtown Memphis.
The store is filled with creations from local artists and craftsmen as well as eclectic and unique items from vendors new to this area. They are pieces that tell stories, many made from things people have discarded or forgotten, or left on the side of the road like a lonely hitchhiker.
Ashley said that they wanted to create an atmosphere and an experience, “that when you walk in here, you are taken away from whatever you are dealing with…for it to be a feel-good place.” From the upbeat music playing throughout the store to the brightly colored displays tucked in every nook and cranny, and the award-winning front window display – they have won the Downtown Memphis Christmas Holiday Window Display Contest the past two years! – their vision is evident.
The couple has a passion for their city, a passion that shows in their faces as they talk about this place they call home.
“Downtown carries a stigma,” Daryl said. “And it is a false stigma, because the truth is this is the safest zip code in the city.”
The couple lives in the apartment above the store and have had front row seats to the city’s recent growth, a growth Daryl feels is slow and sustainable. “It’s natural and organic. We aren’t becoming Nashville. We are taking what we have, and you feel the authenticity here – a sense of activity and movement.”
They see the good things that are going on in their city, despite what is sometimes overshadowed by the blaring headlines. They understand that for a long time the naysayers have spoken louder than the dreamers, the creators, and the storytellers.
They see that tide changing, and they see the change coming from within, from people who are not afraid to dream a little bigger, to be a little bolder, and to invest in something they believe in. It may require people to roll up their sleeves, Daryl believes, and people willing to get a little messy and work together to create something they can be proud of, and a city they can pass on to their children.
“It’s easy to sit behind a screen and type stuff,” Daryl said. “It’s much harder to… instead of complaining about the schools, go live in the school district. That takes courage. But that is the only way we will begin to see the kind of change we want – you can’t do that from the fringes where it is safe and comfortable. You have to go where it’s uncomfortable to do the kind of things that need to be done in this city.”
Located on the sidewalk in front of the store is a large wooden spool that was given to them by Shelby Electric Company. The couple came up with the idea to use the wooden spool as a place for friends and family, both old and new, to gather and fellowship.
“That is where the idea of ‘Come to the Table’ was born,” Ashley said. It is around that table that true authentic friendships have been formed. They have shared meals with these new friends, but they go deeper, sharing life, its ups and downs, and its plateaus. They encourage each other, sharing ideas and dreams together.
In Daryl’s view the most important rule of their sacred table is this: that all are welcome here, including those living on the streets. “This is a real place, a place for the eccentric, the artist and the misfit. Everyone who comes to this table needs grace, and this extends to the homeless around us as well. We have to show that love works, and it works for everyone.”
The sign over the door says Love is Spoken Here. These aren’t just words to the couple, they truly represent their hearts, for their neighbors and the people in the city. And it resulted in a very tangible gift in 2018.
Wanting to reuse the sign that had originally hung in front of the storefront, the couple lacked the funds to make that part of their dream a reality on opening day. For a year there was a banner above the door with Walking Pants printed on it. That was ok by them – they knew when the time was right the sign would be made.
In the summer of 2017, the sign maker they had originally spoken to contacted them and asked if he could stop by the next day. That day he told the couple that an anonymous donor had paid a deposit on the sign, over half the agreed-upon price, and that he was ready to create the sign they had been dreaming of.
On September 29th, 2018, exactly one year from the date of their grand opening, the sign was lit.
And as if to add a bit of magical symmetry, Daryl proposed to Ashley that night, right out in front of the store, in front of about 100 of their friends and family (and a Facebook/Instagram live stream) right as the sign was lit.
Ashley reflected on that day and the sign and the corner, and pointed to the wooden spool of table and chairs where we all talked. “Everything that we have done has started right out here,” Ashley said. “Which to most folks seems kinda crazy.”
Their faith and courage lies at the heart of the revitalization of downtown Memphis, where the dreams of one storefront represent the dreams of something much bigger. One can be sure that she and Daryl have much left to do there – a safe bet would be a wedding in the exact same place in the near future – on one of the most authentic, no-other-place-will-do corners of Memphis, in the church of the Walking Pants. <>
Photos by Kelly King Howe