A cardboard Elvis display in front of various signs at Boulevard Souvenirs. (Brandon Dahlberg)
"Elvis sunglasses" for sale at Boulevard Souvenirs. (Brandon Dahlberg)
A signed gi and accompanying photograph of Elvis wearing it on display inside Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Decades after his death, Elvis Presley remains omnipresent in Memphis. Graceland, his Whitehaven estate, is the second most visited house in the United States, second only to the White House. It sees an average of 650,000 visitors each year. In 2016, Graceland saw its 20 millionth visitor.
The majority of these visitors are not from Memphis, and for many, Graceland is their only real experience with the city. This puts some of the Elvis-themed small businesses that surround Graceland in a slightly different light. Rather than simply being destinations for tourists to visit, they serve as ambassadors for the city on the front lines of tourism. Their atmosphere is certainly Elvis-centric, but these businesses also maintain a good deal of Memphis pride.
Boulevard Souvenirs, located at 3706 Elvis Presley Boulevard, is the last remaining fully independent Elvis souvenir shop in the area. A few steps from the entrance to Graceland, the business has been at its current location since 2000. The store is filled with memorabilia and collectables. As one would expect, almost all of their businesses comes from tourists. Rick and Renae Roberts, the owners of the shop, are also sponsors of the Special Olympics of Greater Memphis, and their son has competed in the event for several years.
A few feet down the road is another Elvis themed business, the Rock & Roll Cafe at 3855 Elvis Presley Boulevard. In business for 30 years, the Cafe used to be a full souvenir shop. However, last year the owner moved in a new direction, converting most of the space into a restaurant that hosts local musical performances — a mix of Elvis covers and local blues. About eighty to eighty-five percent of their business comes from tourists, according to owner Daryl Shanks.
Marlowe’s Ribs & Restaurant sits a mile south of Graceland at 4381 Elvis Presley Boulevard. Tony Gigliotti originally started the business in 1974 as a self-serve restaurant focusing on roast beef and salads. He rebranded as Marlowe’s, named after one of his daughters, in 1982, and built a pit to cook Memphis-style barbecue. Patrons are an even mix of tourists and locals, and most of the staff lives in Whitehaven. The walls are covered with Elvis memorabilia, from posters to authentic clothing. The business also has deep roots in the community. Each year they participate in the Whitehaven Christmas Parade and a year ago contributed to purchasing Whitehaven High School’s new scoreboard.
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