By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
In 1928, a man by the name of L.C. Hightower purchased a piece of land on what is now the corner of Washington and Clinton in Athens. Back in the day, that was actually the intersection of Hwy 31 and Hwy 72, and the building that stands there is most definitely a part of our town’s “tale.” It has been the Wilson-White Chrysler Dealership; the Greyhound bus station, which offered food for travelers cooked in the Rebel Café; a print shop; and now is the new home of Riff Raff Furniture.
Riff Raff is owned by Joel Hamm, and started out in 2015 at one of the recently renovated shops on Market Street just east of the railroad tracks and north of the courthouse annex. “We outgrew the building and needed parking,” Joel said as he discussed the details of the move to the “new old place.” The new digs opened their doors in September, and the new location has turned out to be conveniently accessible for people in Athens-Limestone, as well as folks from other areas.
The growing pains have been a blessing, and a building that stood empty for several years has been lovingly restored. There are a number of features in the new location that go back to its roots and have been preserved, such as the place that served as the old ticket window. Speaking of roots, Joel spent 25 years in the family business at Champion Chevrolet, and his life-long love affair with Chevy is manifested throughout the store with large, excellent, sepia-toned “old-timey” photos of Chevys of yore. In addition, Joel parks his Chevy truck outside to let people know that it’s okay to park there and come on in. “We are the only place in town that has covered parking,” Joel said, and that feature has certainly paid off when it’s stormy outside.
Riff Raff made its mark by offering solid mahogany and rustic pine furniture at a price that is affordable. “The majority of pieces are unique to North Alabama,” said Joel. The brand name is Bramble, and Riff Raff is one of a select few dealers of Bramble furniture in our area. While I was in the shop, a woman from Florida came in and raved about seeing the Bramble line being carried here. The mahogany pieces come from Indonesia, and the rustic pine from Mexico. They also have custom wall art, old hymns preserved on genuine barn wood, “barrel bars,” and the largest maker of bar stools in America. In the spring Riff Raff will be able to offer outdoor furniture and display it out in the covered area.
The barn look continues to be hot in the furniture world, and takes up the majority of the interior display space due to its popularity. “The custom dining sets are big sellers,” Joel said. The farm tables can be ordered as small as 4’ in length on up to 8’, and they also have trestle tables. Bedroom suites continue to move quickly, and Joel keeps an extensive collection of catalogues for ordering “all things Bramble” in case what you are looking for is not out on the showroom floor.
Riff Raff will assist with interior design, and offers free delivery as well as help with assembly. They will custom distress your piece for you, and there are over 50 paint colors from which to choose. One of the things that is very important to Joel and is virtually unheard of in the furniture business is “service after sale.” It makes good sense to check on your customers to make sure they are thrilled with their purchase, and as someone who has decorated his own home with his wares, Joel and his wife Sharma understand and respect the process of finding just the right piece.
If you look behind the counter to the left of Riff Raff’s entrance, you’ll see Joel’s electric guitar and speaker, which gets played when no one is in the shop, or perhaps by request. Music is actually the inspiration for the title of the store. When I interviewed Joel at the former location, I asked him about how he came up with the name “Riff-Raff” for a furniture store. He grinned and said, “I’ve played guitar all my life, and I named it after the AC/DC song from the ‘70s. It makes people curious.” If you are “curious” (and then some) about a trendy, beautifully-built line of furniture for which Riff Raff is the exclusive distributor in our area, you need to come see it in the wonderfully re-purposed building located at 110 E Washington Street in Athens.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner