Tucked between Chamblin’s Uptown and Diversions on Laura Street sits Jay Harris and his Strght & Nrrw boutique. The shop features not only clothes and accessories but a place for anyone looking for life direction to hang out in a friendly atmosphere. We recently chatted with Harris about Strght & Nrrw’s impact on Downtown and on the lives that walk through its doors.
When did Strght & Nrrw open, and how did the idea for the shop come about?
We opened Oct. 25, 2011. The shop was a part of my original business plan when I started the Strght & Nrrw Clothing line. I’ve attended Art Walk for several years, and I would envision a storefront every time I walked past the Elks Building. I was participating as an Art Walk vendor in Hemming Plaza, and I looked down Laura Street – it hit me like a ton of bricks. So I made a faith move and opened the shop.
Describe what Strght & Nrrw offers customers.
Shopping our brand is cool, but it’s the least of what we offer. The store is a refuge for people who need help. Young men and women who are void of direction. People who are starving or are freezing on a cold night. It’s a monument for people who are deemed hopeless to be encouraged, esteemed, loved and treated with value. I was once a very lost young man, and the best part of what I get to do is help others. That’s why the store is set up like a really cool living room instead of a place thats driven by a financial bottom line. People are welcome to sit and just stare or talk. The work is sometimes overwhelming, but the results have really blown us away. We have seen people’s lives utterly turn around.
Where are you from originally, and what is your professional background? How did these factors lead you to opening your own retail business?
Originally from Newark, N.J., raised in Jacksonville and Orlando. My professional background was very unprofessional, so I’ll go with world-class screw up that finally saw the light. I’m self educated. I spent the last 12 years of my life going to fashion trade shows, taking classes and asking questions. I’ve gone to Vegas for a fashion show about twice a year for the past 11, 12 years.
Why did you choose to open your shop Downtown?
Jacksonville has a beautiful Downtown, and I wanted to build what I wanted to see there instead of complaining about it not being there. Also, I wanted to make a move that would inspire people and cast a vision for what could be, with the hope that other entrepreneurs would follow in my steps. I knew it was a risky move. My brand was already bringing in revenue from online sales, so I figured that would pad me through rough seasons. It has worked.
What do you love most about owning a shop Downtown?
The people. The buildings. The concrete. Did I say the people? I simply love it.
For those looking to open a business Downtown, what would you say to them?
There is so much opportunity. You can be the first to do something new in a thriving, growing city. There are not many places where you have that advantage. You have organizations like Downtown Vision, the Jax Pack Downtown Merchants and many others that partner to help make this city even more amazing.
In 2014, we will launch a nonprofit, partnering with other nonprofits, working in the community to make difference in the lives of some of our less fortunate neighbors, and releasing more music. We are really excited about mentoring more youth. We were able to make an impact with some really special young dudes last year. We’ve seen guys come from prison to working jobs and taking care of their families. That’s what excites us. We will be putting a lot of focus there. Oh yeah, more clothes, too.
Anything else to add?
Thanks for having me, and we really appreciate everything Downtown Vision is doing for the city.