The Edge District

Tonya Dyson's Kickspins is a piece of Soulsville in The Edge

Tonya Dyson has spent years working in Soulsville, but her latest endeavor is a record store in The Edge.

Kickspins is located in Boxlot at 607 Monroe Avenue. The popup is one way Dyson is working to keep the legacy of Soulsville alive both in and beyond South Memphis. 

“I noticed that there weren’t a lot of black owned shops that really focused on the black culture,” said Dyson, specifically as it related to music and clothing design. 

Kickspins features R&B, soul, jazz, hip hop, and gospel records and CDs, as well as rock from the 1970’s and 1980’s. It also offers music related books and the new Memphis Soul clothing line. 

In 2017, Dyson operated a similar popup in the Edge Alley restaurant and gallery. Dyson took the opportunity last September to reinvigorate the concept with Kickspins after the Memphis Medical District Collaborative offered her a spot at Boxlot. 

Boxlot is a micro-retail, popup concept shop built from repurposed shipping containers and located in The Edge near the corner of Monroe and Marshall avenues. In addition to Kickspins, it's home to a live music lounge sponsored by retail giant IKEA and another local company,  Majik & Co. That store offers vintage sneakers, concert t-shirts, and sports memorabilia from the 1980s and early 90s.

Boxlot is slated to last through the end of the year as a part of MMDC’s larger strategy to revitalize and promote vibrancy in the portion of the city between the Downtown core and the Medical District.

“[The] project was a creative way for us to activate some space and give small businesses an opportunity to test their business concept in a brick-and-mortar without an extreme amount of overhead,” said MMDC program manager, Vonesha Mitchell.

Dyson plans to continue operating Kickspins at Boxlot through the end of the year, at which time the Boxlot experiment will end. Dyson hopes to then find a larger permanent space in the Medical District to continue to grow Kickspins.

“I want to kind of grow with the momentum happening here," said Dyson. "Especially with black businesses that are moving over here because that’s mostly my clientele ... I figured if people are coming to eat they can come to shop too,” said Dyson.

Tonya Dyson is a radio d.j., singer-songwriter, founder of the Soulsville USA Festival, executive director of the Memphis Slim House, and founder of Neosoulville, a marketing and event firm. Her newest venture is Kickspins, a popup record store that also features the Memphis Soul clothing line. It's located in the Boxlot concept shop in The Edge. (Submitted)

A Lifelong Love for Soulsville 

Dyson was born and raised in Covington, Tennessee. It's the hometown of Isaac Hayes, who went on to become a Soulsville legend. 

Thanks to Hayes, Dyson was drawn to Soulsville from an early age. She eventually made the move to Memphis to attend Lemoyne-Owen College in the Soulsville portion of South Memphis.

“Just knowing about his life and knowing the work that I wanted to do ... I always knew that I wanted to do my work [in Soulsville] and help revive soul music in the city," Dyson said.

In 2004, Dyson founded Neosoulville, a lifestyle marketing and events firm, as a platform to showcase current artists while continuing the legacy of their predecessors.

“We do a lot of work to promote [soul music's] legacy. I wanted to kind of pick up the helm and turn the spotlight on artists that are continuing the legacy ... sometimes we kind of take a back seat to the living legends that were here,” Dyson said.

In addition to Neosoulville, Dyson founded the Soulsville USA Festival in 2015. She's the executive director of Soulsville's Memphis Slim House as of 2019. She also hosts two radio shows on 88.5 FM WQOX—Soul School where she teaches black history and PUREMemphis which features music from current Memphis artists. Dyson is herself a singer-songwriter. 

“The more I worked [in Soulsville], the more I realized that there was more I could do,” Dyson said.

Last fall she made a soft launch of her Memphis Soul line of t-shirts and sweatshirts. A full launch is planned for this summer. Memphis Soul commemorates the unique style of soul music and its deep roots in Memphis. The line is available at Kickspins.

“Memphis Soul is its own unique thing. I launched the brand with the whole point, of course, of using a lot of the current Memphis soul artists,” said Dyson. “Again, being mindful of the work that we do here and the legacy we’re building on.”

Memphis Medical District Collaborative's program manager, Vonesha Mitchell, wore a "Memphis Soul" shirt to the grand opening of Chef Tam's Underground Cafe in the Medical District. The shirts are available at Kickspins. (Submitted)

Why The Edge?

Over the years, Dyson has seen big changes in the Medical District, especially in the area around Boxlot and Edge Alley, which is located at 600 Monroe Avenue.

She said Boxlot has contributed to the vibrancy of the area, generated a lot of curiosity, and captured people’s imaginations.

“Its been an immense change," said Dyson. "It’s really added to the scenery because before it was just this bland parking lot."

"I look at it like a bridge between [High Cotton] Brewery and Edge Alley to the other businesses that are on Marshall Avenue," she continued.

She hopes the project will inspire Memphians to do more with shipping containers as commercial spaces and other bold new architecture and retail concepts.

“[Boxlot has created] a lot of activity in that area,” said Mitchell. “The businesses that have launched there have all primed themselves to grow into larger situations.”

“At MMDC, we are often looking for incremental ways to help businesses start, because it can be so challenging. So this smaller strategy with these shipping containers was a great way for us to continue that strategy,” she continued.

Dyson said she wants to remain in the Medical District after Boxlot closes because of the momentum she’s seeing. She attributes that momentum to MMDC’s work and the new eateries and other businesses it's attracted.

“I really want to stay in the area to be a part of that new energy that’s coming from those new businesses," she said. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Baris Gursakal.

Baris Gursakal is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is an Istanbul native who grew up in Memphis, and has an interest in public policy and social justice issues.