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After devastating fire, renowned Charlene's Colony of Shoppes celebrates grand reopening

Friday, June 13, 2008

Charlene Roberts takes a moment during her grand opening on Thursday to show a favorite pillow to daughter, Rachel. "Rachel is a real estate agent in Nashville," said Roberts. "We have reversed roles. I've been the one saying, 'What do I do' and she has taken this under her wing and come to my rescue."
Charlene Roberts has always had a gift for incorporating timeless antiques with new merchandise. Her Colony of Shoppes, located on Highway 88 in Halls, has used rescued old buildings and treasured antiques as a backdrop for the latest decorating trends for the past 23 years.

Her latest project, however, shows Roberts' ability to turn the tables and create an environment rich with history and tradition out of a brand new building. Her new shop was built out of the ashes of tragedy, through the support of family, friends and a close community of customers that spans hundreds of miles.

After a devastating fire last March, Roberts and her co-workers at the six shops that make up her colony have worked nonstop to create a new building with the all the history, tradition and heartwarming charm of the old one.

Doris Arnold of Halls examines one of the many treasures inside Charlene's new building. The layout features nooks and hide-a-ways that resemble a home and allow customers to take their time and discover antiques and new merchandise featured in the store.
With grand-reopening events Thursday, June 12 through Saturday, June 14, patrons of Charlene's may once again spend an afternoon browsing through the colony's largest store to discover a treasure they can't quite do without. A place where old and new mix together to create a tranquil background and a unique shopping experience.

"Our thinking is 'Charlene's - Better Than Ever,'" said Roberts. "It's our motto, inscribed on the glass behind customer service. That has been our positive light through our hills and valleys and ups and downs."

The rest of the stores in the Charlene's colony did not close throughout the 14-month renovation and Roberts credits the support of her family and friends for helping her and her co-workers through this difficult year.

"Our trucks have never stopped running since March 2, 2007," said Roberts. "The rest of the stores have never closed. The storeowners have been very patient with the renovation process. (We have made it) through (because of) my diligent, dedicated co-workers and loyal and concerned customers. I can't think of enough words to describe them. I am so lucky. Thank goodness women who still love to eat have still patronized us with good wishes and their business."

Roberts said she had the option of not rebuilding her store, but her bond with her customers urged her to start again.

"I have a different level of customers. We have fun. We say 'you enter as friends and leave as family' because that is the way it is. I'm too young not to do this and I would miss everyone," said Roberts. "(This) was a huge undertaking. My husband, Ronnie, said 'the first day you open and you see your customers, it will all be worth it.' My faith, my family, my co-workers and my customers have surrounded me with total love and support."

Two very special items were salvaged from the burnt rubble of Roberts' business shortly after the fire that destroyed it.

"The day I opened my first shop, my husband gave me a horseshoe for good luck," said Roberts. "I hung it in my office. After the fire, he went to where my office was and there was my horseshoe. He had it framed with a photo from the first magazine article done on the shop."

The second item came as Roberts was surveying the damage the day after the fire.

"I was walking toward the tea room and a piece of paper was blowing just in front of me," said Roberts, who said a fluttering page stayed out of her reach until she caught it just in front of the tea room door. "It was a page all burnt around the edges, but not the writing. It was about the Armor of God. I went into the tea room and I told Brenda Roberts, 'I am going to be all right.' She framed it for me."

Those two items hang together in Roberts' office, a reminder that some blessings cannot be lost.

"We all know that God is there with us in the good times," said Roberts. "It's good to know He's there in the bad times, too. Our life has been divided into before (the fire) and after. We no longer compare to what was before. We've set our standards, got our customer service and we are just waiting for our customers to come.

"There is nothing on this hill that anybody needs, but everyone usually manages to find something that they love," said Roberts. "I wanted people to be able to meander through and get that feeling of discovery. It's built like a house and it looks like a house so that people can get a feel of what they can do in their own homes. In my own home, I like to mix antiques with new furniture. At this shop, that is what we are doing. I want it to feel like 'Honey, I'm home!' and to have that warmth."

To create a backdrop for that effect, Roberts and Steve Vandergriff worked together to create a design that echoed the feeling of the lost building. Most of the rooms in the building have 12-foot ceilings, but a large area in the center was left open with exposed beams, so rugs can be hung in the same manner they once were.

Roberts credits Vandergriff with the design of the shop and store manager Tonya Farley with using her artistic ability to create displays throughout the store.

"My right-hand person during this construction and design was Steve Vandergriff," said Roberts. "Tonya has worked with me for 10 years. She is the 'me' I see 10 years back. She has tremendous energy and doesn't mind working long hours. We have the same visual style. But this is a group effort of every person here. All responsibilities are shared as a team. The grand opening is as personal for my co-workers as it is for me. They all mean so much to me."

Roberts also credits her sweet best girlfriends for working alongside her and taking her away from the work when it seemed too daunting. She thanks daughter Rachel for putting her life in Nashville on hold and coming to her mother's rescue during the renovation process.

"Rachel is a real estate agent in Nashville," said Roberts. "We have reversed roles. I've been the one saying, 'What do I do?' and she has taken this under her wing and come to my rescue. I really appreciate her forfeiting her own needs to help me."

Hesitant to name the many people who have helped rebuild Charlene's since last March, Roberts pointed out Adam Camp for his finish work on the crown molding, Logan Roberts of Landscape Workshop for creating the inviting walkway, Colins Voss, Brian Smith and Steve Vandergriff, who painted, hung beams, installed and stained flooring and "did anything that needed to be done."

"It feels like my old shop," said Roberts. "For the past year, every time I saw something pretty I bought it. It's been like Christmas opening these crates. It's a surprise to everyone, including me. We are having fun getting them displayed."

Roberts and her team have unpacked crates and crates of new merchandise, placing pieces perfectly around the historic touches created in the design.

Salvaged antique doors, windows and other architectural features are featured throughout the layout including the front door of a church in Nutbush, creating the molding above a fireplace mantel; an old iron baby bed that has been turned into restroom signs; an antique oak counter from a drug store in Henning; 9-foot antique windows, doors and transoms that were rescued from an 1866 home that frame out the garden conservatory; cabinet doors from a bookcase now serving as transoms in the rear of the store and old paneled doors that provide depth behind bookcases.

"I like things with a story," said Charlene. "I've shed more tears this past year than I have in my whole life," said Roberts. "But we are getting to the point where there's a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not a train. Every bad thing has turned to good."

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I love comming to Charlene,s, but the food has not been good like it used to be, and it,s not only me , some other,s say the same ,are two kind to say so. Please make it good again.

-- Posted by chief_ty20 on Fri, Jun 13, 2008, at 11:25 AM

oh dear i hadnt even heard a fire had occured! well, i'm glad it's up and running again! :)

-- Posted by katyboo on Fri, Jun 13, 2008, at 12:11 PM

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