A European Lifestyle BoutiqueHistoric Sweetwater, Tennessee is known for its quaint shops featuring antiques, gifts, jewelry and lady’s apparel. Nestled amongst these you will find Sweetwater’s shopping and dining sensation, The Paris Apartment. What is even more astonishing than everything you’ll discover inside is the fact that this remarkable business strategy and model was implemented in less than four month’s time.
Inside The Paris Apartment you’ll experience a truly unique European adventure which will remind you of your past travels to Europe or perhaps encourage you to plan your first European vacation. Within the two-story apartment you’ll discover the Le Jardin Tea Room, The Left Bank Boutique (Fine Ladies Apparel), the CupCakery, the European Café, an art gallery, a floral shop and two floors of exquisite, yet affordable gifts, home décor and more. A third floor ballroom sits awaiting restoration for future expansion.
The nearly 10,000 square foot Paris Apartment is the creation of the very innovative local entrepreneur, Debbie Oden.
Everything Knoxville: Visitors will be truly amazed at what you and your team of “innovators” have accomplished in only four month’s time. What was your inspiration for The Paris Apartment?
Debbie Oden: I have always had a passion for entertaining, decorating, traveling and sharing life with friends and family. Last year my husband Bob and I had the wonderful privilege of caring for my father, Dick Puckett, in his last five months on the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California. We spent a great deal of time sharing memories and documenting stories, and I was so moved being reminded of how many lives he had touched and how many people he had inspired throughout his life. Slowing down long enough to spend that time with him gave me a lot of time to reflect on my own life and the unfulfilled chapter in my life of sharing my creative side and hopefully inspiring others. Friends have often questioned why I had not done so yet and now, here we are. I have a wonderful excuse to “Aim High and Go over the Top” every day!
It was my dream to create a destination venue where our guests could escape to the back lanes of Paris and wind through the boutiques in search of their hidden treasures, a fabulous accessory, or unique stylish jacket. Our guests could then stop and relax in a special European Café, enjoying lunch, a pastry, a pot of tea, or a latté with friends.
EK: The Paris Apartment is the very type of shopping and dining venue one might expect to discover in New York City or Chicago. Why did you think this business model would succeed in Sweetwater, Tennessee?
Debbie: I have enjoyed traveling extensively and I am always in search of the hidden treasures along my journeys. It was my desire to create a business model where our guests would find treasures of all prices while enjoying refreshing dining and be able to escape and lose themselves for a few hours meandering. So often boutiques have fabulous treasures; however, they are quite often too expensive for many. We felt we would be successful if we could merchandise in multiple tiers with this current economy. “A little something for everyone.”
We chose Sweetwater to begin our business because of the other lovely shops that have worked so hard to build it as a destination. We hope we bring an additional draw to complement our wonderful neighbors in historic downtown Sweetwater.
EK: How would you describe for our readers the eclectic selection of gift and home décor items they will find at The Paris Apartment?
Debbie: Eclectic is a great word to describe The Paris Apartment. We enjoy the quest to seek out and find unique gifts, casual elegant dining and home décor that will delight the wide interests of our customers. We love mixing antiques, handcrafted items, art and the creative use of blending all of the above to create magical vignettes throughout the shop. Our passion for arranging and blending eclectic treasures inspires us to recreate our boutiques continually. Our customers share with us that they feel they can visit each week and find the shop seems “new” each visit. Our team of designers enjoys creating an ever changing experience for our guests.
EK: You recently expanded your merchandise offering by featuring women’s apparel and accessories. What has been your customers’ response to these newly added items?
Debbie: Unbelievable! We are humbled when our customers express their excitement over our new boutique and share their appreciation for our bringing unique, artful, quality apparel and accessories to The Paris Apartment. We seek out new designers along with quality established apparel and accessory lines that are not carried in other shops in the Knoxville area. We then blend in vintage apparel and accessories to add another dimension to our boutique. Additionally, we have fabulous handmade wearable art and accessories as well as other well known creative lines such as Mary Francis handbags.
EK: Describe for our readers the Le Jardin Tea Room and Café within The Paris Apartment.
Debbie: We have blended our passions for cooking, entertaining, traveling and tablescaping into a fabulous dining experience for our guests. We have each table preset with elegant china patterns as though one is coming to our home for lunch or dinner. We then fill the plates with delicious, fresh European-inspired meals. Each table in our main dining room is decorated with a different European city or region theme. We have customers call to make reservations “for two in Paris on Friday” or “four for lunch in Tuscany on Tuesday.” We recently had a gentleman call to ask for “a table with an ocean view” and we enjoyed seeing his face as he walked in to find we had placed an easel with a lovely framed painting of Carmel Beach next to his table. We have entirely too much fun!
We serve afternoon teas and high teas by reservation. Our Victorian Christmas Teas will be served every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in December at 11:30 or 2:30 by reservation only. We will also serve our Victorian Christmas Teas each day between Christmas and New Year’s Day at 11:30 or 2:30. Our guests will delight in the traditions of “days gone by” in Victorian England with a full Traditional Christmas Tea, Christmas Crackers and a Yule Log. Book early as these teas are filling quickly.
EK: Has the customer response to the Cupcakery surprised you?
Debbie: Absolutely! We are a bit old fashioned and we hand decorate and fill our cupcakes each day. Many of our recipes are old family favorites and others are innovative new creations. Our customers express their delight in our old fashioned baking as well as our creative blending of flavors and toppings. We are excited to announce that we are adding breads, pies, cinnamon rolls and other baked goods to our Bakery & Cupcakery by order. We encourage our customers to place their holiday orders early!
EK: You recently held an artist exposition at The Paris Apartment. Do you plan additional expositions in the future?
Debbie: Yes! The art gallery located in our main dining room is a very special part of The Paris Apartment to me and was inspired by my father, who was the Arts & Crafts Director for Ft. Ord and was very instrumental in the Army Arts & Crafts Program worldwide. We grew up surrounded by art. One of his campaigns used to encourage recreational services for our soldiers was a worldwide Army program called “You Gotta Have Art!” He believed and taught that anyone could be an artist and everyone needed art in their lives. His passion for the arts passed on to me and inspired me to develop our gallery and the sharing of art here at The Paris Apartment.
EK: Will art be a staple at The Paris Apartment and will you be featuring artists?
Debbie: Absolutely. We enjoy hosting a wide range of events at The Paris Apartment, from cooking classes to fashion shows, and we especially enjoy sharing art with our customers. Our next Gallery Opening is Thursday, November 3rd from 4 to 8 pm. We are opening a tribute show to my father and a “Tribute to Army Arts & Crafts.” This show will be on display through January 26th and will feature everything from painting, sculpture, glass blowing and pottery. We are currently booking exhibits for 2012 and artists interested in showing in our gallery may contact us for more information.
EK: What should our readers expect to discover at The Paris Apartment for the holidays?
Debbie: Magic! We are creating a Winter Wonderland of trees and treasures throughout the boutiques. We are proud to feature Katherine’s Collections Santa Creations as the primary themes of each of our trees. Our Cupcakery has been transformed to Santa’s Candyland and Bakery with “Santa Lollipop.” We have created a magical forest of trees for our guests to stroll through with their tour brochure, sharing the creativity and inspiration behind each tree and vignette. Of course the trees, décor and vignettes may be purchased and recreated in your home as well. Be certain to peek in the trees to find the hidden surprises throughout the boutiques! Please join us for our Holiday Open House November 3rd through 6th. We will have special entertainment, food and sales throughout the weekend.
The Paris Apartment
111 North Main Street
Sweetwater, TN 37874