Stationery company moves to former bakery in the Edge District

After relocating several times over the past 20 years due as her business grew, entrepreneur Karen Adams has purchased an Edge District building to be the home of Karen Adams Design, a stationery company.   

“We love the historical part of Memphis, and we also like the creative vibe that’s going on in the Edge District,” said Adams, who started her custom stationary and design business in 1999.

“We started out in my guest house, and the business has slowly grown. We started out doing custom stationary, and it has evolved to where we do greeting cards and gift products.”

Today, the company sells domestically and internationally.

Adams graduated with a major in fashion design from Rhode Island School of Design in the mid-1990s and worked in New York before moving to Memphis with her husband. Post-guest house, Adams worked Downtown in the PaperWorks Building and then moved to Tennessee Street, where eventually she was given the option to either buy the building or move within one month. So she moved her operations to 2635 Broad Avenue before deciding it was time to make a brick-and-mortar investment.

“We had always leased and finally decided it was time to purchase somewhere and settle down and place some roots,” said Adams. “As we were leasing larger and larger spaces, it just wasn’t worth spending so much money and not making an investment in our own business.”

At 12,000 square feet, the new space at 647 Madison Avenue will be twice as large as the space on Broad Avenue. Approximately half will be used for warehouse purposes, and the other half will be administrative and production space.

"The Edge District is one of the last districts with second- and third-generation product available on the ground," said Robert Taylor, affiliate broker with Raspberry CRE, which handled the building acquisition for Adams.

"It was a little bit difficult to put together in the sense that so much development is happening down in the Edge District right now. I don't know if you would call it luck or just diligence that we were able to find a place that worked for them in the heart of the city."

The former Camp Building at 647 Madison, which shares a contiguous wall with Sam Phillips Recording Studio, was built it 1945 and originally housed a bakery until the mid-1960s. In fact, the design of the front of the building was louvered open to deflect heat from the building.

Adams purchased the building earlier this year for $350,000, and the total project cost is expected to be up to $1.5 million. To help with renovation costs, Adams received an exterior improvements grant from the Downtown Memphis Commission.

“It’s in really bad shape,” said Adams. “We’re basically gutting it and rebuilding it to the best of our ability that we can afford.”

Extensive renovation work will include removing asbestos and installing a new roof. Roughly 500 square feet of the building that had formerly been an apartment is being converted into an Airbnb. Local contractor Tom Archer and Archer Custom Builders are handling the work.

Becoming a building owner has not been without its challenges for Adams.

“It’s been interesting going about this as somebody who’s never done this before because I am learning the hard way [about things like applying for a PILOT],” she said. “The steps have to be coordinated in a particular way, and as somebody who is not experienced doing it, it’s hard to know that on the front end.”

She’s hoping the building, which will have 10 full-time employees, along with an additional eight to 10 temporary employees during the company’s holiday rush from the end of August to the end of January, will be ready for move in by the first quarter of next year.

“It will be fabulous because we’ll be able to house everything under one roof,” said Adams. “Being at the office will make everything flow better.”

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.