written by takara swoopes
photos by dokk savage
The rhythmic beats of the blues have echoed through the streets of Florence, Alabama, for decades, earning it the title of “Birthplace of the Blues.” But there’s another reason to pay attention to this charming Southern town – it’s the home of Billy Reid, the iconic luxury fashion designer renowned for sophisticated, classic American style and unparalleled attention to detail. What many don’t realize is that Reid’s flagship store and headquarters are nestled right here in North Alabama’s Florence, a hidden gem worth discovering.
choosing florence, alabama
Reid’s journey to success was anything but smooth. Originally based in New York City, Reid was forced to close his business after the tragic events of 9/11.
“We had a runway show the day before the attacks,” Reid recalled. “We had everything set for the future, but then it all came crashing down. It was a very trying time for us.”
With no other options, Reid and his family decided to make a fresh start in Florence, Alabama – his wife’s hometown. “We wanted to be somewhere where we could breathe,” Reid said. “Somewhere where we could start over and rebuild.”
And that’s exactly what they did. “We were able to get back on our feet, find investment and re-enter the market with Billy Reid in 2004 and headquarter here in Florence,” Reid said.
Despite the initial challenges, Reid found himself invigorated by the creative possibilities of his new location. “I realized how inspired creatively I was being back in the South,” he said. “I was eager to try to rebuild my business from an unexpected location.”
Billy Reid’s flagship store and headquarters
Billy Reid’s flagship store is housed in a building that dates back to the 1920s and operated as a family department store until 1960. After that, it housed Anderson’s Bookland from 1961 until 2007. When Billy Reid took over the building in 2009, they wanted to restore some of the details original to the space.
The present ceiling tins were pulled down and repurposed within the space, while the walls were taken back to the original brick. Large library shelving was also built to honor the bookstore that was there previously.
The upstairs, which had not been used in over 30 years, was also restored. Heart pine flooring, a beautiful roof tinned ceiling, and brick walls were discovered and cleaned, while the essential functions of the headquarters were modernized. The exterior had big windows which were perfect for the displays. Only minor repairs, paint, and trim details were needed to make the building their own.
The store, which sits on North Court Street, is roughly 15,000 square feet, with the shop portion estimated at 2500 sq ft and another 1500 sq ft behind the shop for entertaining and hospitality. The rest of the building is used for their archive, e-comm studio, design studio, and general headquarters for the business.
billy reid recommends
As a proud resident of Florence, Reid has some recommendations for Huntsvillians interested in making the drive west, to explore the charming town. “I would definitely come downtown,” Reid said. “There’s a place called Trowbridge’s, which was established I think in 1918. It’s a sandwich and ice cream soda shop kind of place that has been there forever. The only thing that might have changed is the prices, and even they haven’t changed that much. It’s definitely a cool experience—with that small town something that’s been there you know type of spot.”
For coffee lovers, Reid recommends Rivertown Coffee. “You also definitely want to get some barbecue. Sledge’s is about 10 minutes outside of town, but well worth it.”
For those looking for something a little more elevated, Reid suggests Odette, a farm-to-table restaurant with an incredible bar. “The mix of what they offer there is fantastic,” he said. “There’s a lot happening downtown; it’s hoppin’.”
If you’re a fan of architecture, Reid has a must-see recommendation: the Rosenbaum House, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece.
“It’s one of the few in the South,” Reid said. “If you have any time, I strongly, strongly suggest taking a look at that house. It’s well worth it.”
Reid has a personal connection to the Rosenbaum House, having once used it as a venue for a memorable fashion presentation. “We sculpted these mannequins and placed them all throughout the house and had a party there,” he said.
With recommendations like these, it’s clear that Florence, Alabama, has something for everyone. And as Reid himself can attest, there’s no shortage of inspiration to be discovered in this charming Southern town.
The next time you’re looking to venture outside of Huntsville, we recommend taking a ‘style inspiration drive’ over to Florence to enjoy some luxury shopping and design inspiration.