Grady Goods: A Young Family Turns A Life Of Art Experience Into Business

May 10, 2023 at 12:01 am
Jae Grady stands in Grady Goods, his new arts and gift shop on Baxter Ave.
Jae Grady stands in Grady Goods, his new arts and gift shop on Baxter Ave. Photos by Tyler Lizenby

There’s something to be said about being rooted in a place. When I met Jae Grady, owner of the new Grady Goods store at 620 Baxter Ave., it was in our youth, finding our way to punk shows and raves, but now we find ourselves meeting again — as older folks — with families and careers. Now we’re old punks with the leftover ethic of working hard and doing the shit we want to get done ourselves. 

Jae, his wife Jane, sons Arlo and Ronan, and their dog Lobo have put this ethic to work to open their first family business. In the most Gen X way, building on Jae’s years of merchandising experience and work as a buyer, the Gradys decided the time is now to bring those years of work into a space that can have an impact on the local arts community. That this is a family effort is a true statement — even the dog has a role in the business. 

click to enlarge The Gradys, Jane and Jae with sons Arlo and Ronan, and now shop dog Lobo.
The Gradys, Jane and Jae with sons Arlo and Ronan, and now shop dog Lobo.

The seeds for the dream of Grady Goods were planted long ago when Jae began working in a family business, A Taste Of Kentucky, owned by his aunt and uncle, Sherry and John Hassmann. 

“I did a little bit of all the odd jobs that you do when you’re starting out in retail,” he said. “I would do everything from shipping to delivering. And then as things progressed, I got into doing more custom merchandise, buying, and ordering.”

Eventually, Jae moved on to work at Why Louisville, another retail gift/t-shirt shop.

“I was there for about two years, I think, and again focused on local artists, local vendors as often as possible. That’s something that I got a real connection to — starting out with A Taste of Kentucky — is meeting vendors all over the commonwealth, and getting, almost, a familial friendship going with a lot of these folks.” 

Following Why Louisville, Jae found himself at Merridian Home Furnishings where he learned more about household goods. Eventually, Jae got a call from the Speed Art Museum. 

A close friend of his was the assistant manager and “very pregnant” as he described her. She was going on maternity leave and Speed needed someone to fill her shoes and take on the responsibilities of the role in a relatively short period of time. 

“I think originally when it opened, they were kind of marketing towards a higher price point,” said Jae. “And part of what I was asked to do when I was hired in — as merchandise buyer and developer — was to try to get things more reflective of the permanent collection, and special exhibitions that came through the Speed — and also to get the price point down to a place that was accessible for everyone, which is something that’s hugely important to me.” 

That request, to make the museum store more accessible struck a chord with Jae. 

“I have a lot of love for museum stores. It was always — since I was a kid — it was my favorite part of any field trip. [I would] mow an extra lawn or something like that to try to get a few extra bucks so I could get my astronaut ice cream.”

Taking that feeling into his work gave the Speed gift shop an exciting feel for visitors. In Jae’s Speed Art Museum store, whether you had $2 or $200, there was something available for you. 

“We had representatives from virtually every department that were part of a merchandise team that we all had some input on,” he said. “So everybody had an idea of what foot did we want to put forward when people walked into the museum, and their first experience was walking into the store, ‘What’s the impression we want to give?’ How do we make sure everybody feels welcome when they come inside? And so, we went really deep on those things and really turned the store into a place that was much more accessible than where it had began.”

Achieving his goal at the Speed and meeting other professionals in the Museum store business made a big difference for Jae. 

“Towards the end of my time in the Speed… well, the entire time I was there, I was very active with the Museum Store Association which is an international organization — of just what it sounds like — museum stores from every type of museum.”

In 2022, Jae became the president of the association and got to work on one of the biggest projects of his career which wrapped up his time at the Speed just before he jumped full force into creating Grady Goods, where he intends to bring the sensibility of a museum store into a store for regular artists and regular folks. 

“Everything wrapped up with Mucha, which I got to work directly with Alphonse Mucha’s great-grandson, Marcus Mucha, who was a delight to work with.”

With the Speed at his back, after a very successful Mucha exhibit and merch sales, Jae and his wife Jane made the decision to give Grady Goods a go, with Jane who grew up in PeeWee Valley, Kentucky deciding to keep her day job at Weyland Ventures, while helping Jae to grow the store which will feature gifts, jewelry, and art by local and regional artists and craftspeople. 

I spent a lot of time in the broader art world — the higher echelon of the art museum world,” he said. “And while I saw some beautiful things and had my eyes open to new types of artwork, there’s also aspects of the large art world that can be a little bit off-putting for someone like me. I  get a bit disillusioned to a lot of the processes that happen when it gets into a certain financial stratum, and I’m not trying to disparage that world at all.”

Wanting to connect more on the ground with artists is a big part of why Jae decided to separate from museum life. 

“There’s something that I’ve wondered for some time, that is also a thought that that really drives me wanting to connect back to local art and that I oftentimes wonder, what the art world would look like — the larger art world — if it weren’t driven by the fetishes and tensions of the ultra-wealthy. And, you know, that’s something that goes back all the way to the Medici times. That’s not anything new.”

click to enlarge Jae stands by the Grady Goods sandwich board outside the new shop.
Jae stands by the Grady Goods sandwich board outside the new shop.

Growing Up And Getting Out

Jae was born in Chicago but moved to Louisville as a very young child of an also young mother. His relationship with his step-father was strained and like many kids who liked to create more than they loved school, or who found the lure of freedom greater than being at home with parental rules, Jae found himself moving out of his family home at the age of 17 and finding an apartment on Payne street in the Phoenix Hill neighborhood near the Highlands. 

“It feels like a real homecoming for me,” Jae says of opening the store in the same area. “Like I’ve come full circle coming back to this neighborhood, which I truly… it’s one of my favorites. It’s where I first was on my own and really started seeing the world in a totally different way. And back then, my roommates at that first apartment were Scott Davis that owned Highland Grounds, Greg Sanders who was always doing music, improv, and things up there, and Craig Pfunder. We were doing acoustic duets around town to make extra money and pay bills.” 

Pfunder is best known around Louisville, and beyond, as the guitarist and vocalist of alt-rock/electronic group VHS or Beta. 

In high school, Jae had done theater, and used that skill in performance with The Alley Theater which performed in the back of Highland Grounds coffee shop. 

“God, it was just a great place and way to be introduced to a life on your own,” he said. “Um, and then also spent a long time at Twice Told Coffee Shop, which was just about the best damn performance coffee shop that ever was. I used to host an open mic at Twice Told.”

Twice Told was a coffee shop that “everyone” visited at some point growing up in ‘90s Louisville near the Highlands. That is, anyone involved in music or art. 

“I remembered, and I thought it was so adorable at the time,” Jae says, remembering some of the acts that played the coffee shop stage. “There were some other kids that were right around my age, and I feel like they had lived more towards the east side of Louisville, but I could’ve been wrong. But these kids dragged all their band equipment to hurriedly set up and play like the two or three songs that you got to play. I just thought to myself, every time that they would do that, I would think, ‘What a dedicated group of kids.’ Like they’re really gonna do something. And that was My Morning Jacket, you know?”

Jae also played in local bands and continues to play his guitars, while also spending time with his family.

Bringing it Home

Those years of coffee shops, and living the creative bohemian life of an artist gave Jae the connections that ultimately brought him full circle to Jane, his kids, and now Grady Goods. He learned during those years that what makes an artist is the desire and practice of making and not the pieces of paper earned in a classroom. 

click to enlarge The gallery of Grady Goods will feature a different local artist monthly.
The gallery of Grady Goods will feature a different local artist monthly.

And as he approaches what he does with Grady Goods, Jae is also taking into account some other things he’s learned about as the parent of a child with autism. 

    “Our first monthly featured artist is Chimel Ford,” Jae said. “Chimel is a highly functioning autistic artist and is vocal about autism awareness. He just captured our eyes and our hearts with his work. It’s very colorful pop art. He tends to focus on a lot of popular portraiture and he saw a lot of beauty in the boxes and the labels and the bags of his favorite snacks.”

Jae and Jane’s younger son Ronan was diagnosed with autism during the pandemic, and it’s important to them that Grady Goods is a place where neurodiverse artists and makers feel welcome. 

Their plan for the store includes having a rotating selection of local art displayed in the gallery room each month. Considering Jae’s work with the Speed Museum, they would like to help artists expand their earning potential through other types of merchandising. 

“So the museum store aspect of Jae’s background, and his ability to do art licensing, we wanna bring that museum store approach to the gift shop for our local artists. So for example, in a perfect world, we would’ve planned ahead a little better, and we would’ve had postcards, magnets, stickers, and a t-shirt of Chimel’s artwork. Going forward, we want to get images from our artists who are gonna be showing —something from the show — and create that museum-store-quality product in this space for our local artists,” said Jane.

It’s a unique twist that more artists are seeing as sustainable ways to fund their art practices. Many local artists, like Irene Mudd — an artist featured in Grady Goods — already take their images and create multiple types of goods. These good created tiers of prices that make purchasing local art easier and accessible for all, something that is central to the ethics of the Gradys. •

Grady Goods is open Wednesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m.