By: Siobhan Rahilly
CHATTANOOGA (UTC/The Loop) – The New Moon Gallery opened on the new moon in June of 1989. Over twenty years later, this local business has survived two moves and economic roller coasters to become a fixture in Chattanooga.
The first location of New Moon, as it is affectionately called, was on Tennessee Avenue in St. Elmo. The space was roughly 300 square feet, or just a bit bigger than the back room at the current New Moon location. It began as a joint project between seven partners, including David Wheeler, the current and sole owner of New Moon. Each one of the partners had different interests that were highlighted in the inventory that New Moon carried. There was a feeling that Chattanooga needed a bookstore where different titles could be found.
“I knew of some galleries in California and in Asheville, N.C., and some bookstores that I was really fond of, so I thought it would be cool to combine those aspects,” Wheeler said. Wheeler had always been interested in music and art, and made things from leather goods to baskets. In fact, most of the wood furniture that can be found at New Moon was made by Wheeler specifically for the store to hold pottery, jewelry, and myriad other treasures.
Over the course of the six years that New Moon was in St. Elmo, the business expanded three times until it took up the entire building. It evolved from a tiny business run entirely by its founding partners to a one-man operation that had a staff and had finally started to turn a profit. By 1995 New Moon was ready to move to 36 Frazier Avenue on Chattanooga’s North Shore. “Moving to Frazier was probably the best thing for the store; much easier access for a lot more people,” Wheeler said. While New Moon was now in a more visible location, the area was very different than it is today. Coolidge Park did not yet exist – there was simply a gravel lot behind the store.
As Chattanooga continued to beautify its downtown and North Shore areas, more businesses and restaurants sprang up on Frazier Avenue. This was great for business, but led to the eventual and continuing problem of parking. Parking became a real issue, Wheeler said, mainly because the people who worked over there used so much of the parking space. While Wheeler opposed the installation of parking meters, he notes that it did solve the employee parking problem.
In 2007, after 12 years on Frazier, New Moon moved to its current location at 307 Manufacturer’s Road. New Moon moved to the Two Northshore complex not only to once again expand its business, but to be in an environmentally friendly environment. The Two Northshore complex is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Much of the materials used to construct the complex were recycled or reclaimed from old buildings, the rainwater is recycled for irrigation, and all the buildings have energy-efficient heating and air systems. Being environmentally aware and being a part of that type of business complex was a factor for Wheeler. Free parking and plenty of it didn’t hurt either.
New Moon had been in its new location for about two months when the economy “tanked” in January 2008. Business “has bumped along since then. It’s not been an exceptional two years, but we’re still here,” Wheeler said. He is optimistic that the economy will turn around, and he sympathizes with people who are afraid to spend money because they’re afraid that they might lose their job or home. He knows exactly how they feel.
People are still very supportive of New Moon and make an effort to shop there. Wheeler stresses that while it’s not all about money, it does have to be a concern when it comes to being able to keep the doors open. He hopes to continue to bring more and different kinds of things to Chattanooga. The better business is, the more artists we can support, and the funkier we can make it, Wheeler said. There was a time when people who were into music and art would leave Chattanooga, because there was nothing here. Wheeler grew up in Chattanooga, has family here, and thought that staying in Chattanooga and trying to do something would be better than moving.
New Moon has been a labor of love through all of its twenty-plus years. As an employee, but more importantly a devotee of New Moon, I encourage people to visit the store; if for no other reason, than to walk in and be greeted by the amazing smell created by the wall of incense and stacks of fragrant candles.
Visit New Moon on its brand new Facebook page for updates and more pictures.