New Belmont Blvd. retail outlet to occupy historic property when it opens in 2017
Following the recent purchase of the Athlete’s House International, Ltd., Belmont University officials engaged this spring in careful consideration of various retail options for the historic site on Belmont Boulevard where the company operated an athletic footwear and apparel store for 42 years. Today, the University announced that the Athlete’s House site will be renovated to become the new home for the campus bookstore. Construction on the property began last week, and the store anticipates opening in its new location in January 2017.
In 1973, David Graeflin and Erich Groos opened the Athlete’s House, known as the first running store in Tennessee, and the owners decided to cease doing business in 2015. Located at the intersection of Belmont Boulevard and Portland Avenue, the property sits near the University’s Gabhart Student Center and provides a convenient location for campus members seeking to purchase apparel, supplies, textbooks and academic materials.
“This store always had a reputation of being a neighborhood friendly retail operation, even providing a water cooler on the sidewalk as a hydration station for runners,” said Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher. “That legacy of being a good neighbor for this community is a tradition we share at Belmont University and one we want to continue with the move of the Belmont campus store to that prominent corner.”
The stand-alone building will also enable the campus store to develop its own brand in a more visible retail location, and the dedicated spot allows University staff to think about processes, like textbook delivery, in a new way in terms of providing services to the campus community.
Belmont Vice President and Chief of Staff Dr. Susan West oversees the Auxiliary Services area that operates the campus store and shared her own excitement about the new location. “This move helps further solidify the southern end of campus as a student-centered area as the store will join the Belmont Boulevard student-run businesses (House Of, BLVD) along with McAlister’s Deli and Curb Café that already border that edge of Belmont’s property. It addition to those retail outlets, the Gabhart Student Center renovations have also begun in that corridor, and that project is intended to provide increased space for student organizations and to support community-building efforts.”
The Athlete’s House site features historic ties to Belmont and to Nashville at large. In 1932, Herman Lay became an independent snack food distributor in Nashville and located his potato chip manufacturing office at 1700 Portland Avenue. That location, the site of the Athlete’s House store, sat across the street from an Esso gas station owned by Ed and Bernice Johnson (the current Circle K). The couple often helped Herman Lay keep his potato chip trucks on the road by allowing him to pay for gas on credit. In 1948, in gratitude for the help, Lay offered the Johnsons a chance to buy stock in his company.
The Johnsons’ initial investment of $8,000 grew exponentially with the company, which is now part of Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Co Inc. Following Bernice Johnson’s death in January 1998 (her husband died in 1994), $8 million from the Johnson estate was given to Belmont and directed toward scholarships in the College of Business, primarily for accounting students to honor their own accountant, Lawrence Glover, who also served at that time as a Belmont faculty member. Additional funds from the Johnson estate were placed in a 10-year charitable remainder annuity trust, and those accumulated monies, $10 million, were released to Belmont in 2008 and placed into the general university endowment to support student scholarships.
The Johnsons’ total donations to the university, equaling more than $18.6 million, can be sourced to the friendships formed between the couple and Herman Lay at the historic intersection of Portland Avenue and Belmont Boulevard.