The atmosphere of Dandy Lions, a store in downtown Maryville, is so welcoming that it spills out onto the front sidewalk. With multiple signs reading “Open!” or “Come on in!” any pedestrian would feel enticed to wander inside the shop to take a look around. Inside, the smell of candles wafts through the building’s rooms, which are full of merchandise, ranging from customized stationery to artwork by local artists.
Any anxiety that even the most stressed customer has instantly melts away, making the store the perfect destination for any students looking for a brief escape from academic life. The worn wooden floors creak under foot, a reminder to customers of the historical value of the store’s building. Positioned in the old home of the Blount County Library and built in the late 1920s, Dandy Lions is only the third tenet of this monumental building. After the country library moved buildings, the second occupant of the building was the local Red Cross. While the purpose of the building itself has changed over the years, the building’s occupants have always tried to participate in the Maryville community in some way.
The owner of Dandy Lions, Joy Foster Carver, made the goals of continuing the traditions of being a service to Maryville the foremost missions of Dandy Lions. She has a dedication to giving the area both products and services that they might not find elsewhere. Although Carver studied elementary education when she attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and continued to receive her master’s degree from University of Tennessee in Knoxville, she said that she still desired to turn her passion for retail into a full time career. After working at two inner city schools in Knoxville, Carver decided to start a family. Being a stay at home mom quickly turned into creating an in home stationery business.
She described it as successful from day one. “It was doing so well that, with starting a family, it needed to get out of our home,” Carver said. The next step was finding a space in Maryville that would allow the business to become a part of the local business community. Creating a plan for restoration of the old library building benefited the downtown area, as well as the business; the move allowed Carver to bring not only stationary, but also merchandise to fill the new 2,400 square feet of space Carver said that she has the ability to bring in products that are “trending,” as well as merchandise that had never been offered in Maryville before.
Customers will see designer items in Dandy Lions, with brand names such as Lilly Pulitzer and Tervis Tumblers, which are mixed in with goods from local artists. With products that are bought from the national market, as well as handmade items from those closer to home, Dandy Lions offers a balance of national trends and a hometown touch.
“It needs to be a fit,” Carver said. “It needs to be things that fit with our customer base, fit with the historic walls of the store, fit with what’s trending.” The merchandise in the store is specifically ideal for college students. Because the buyers for the store are college students themselves, many of them studying retail management at UT, the items are perfectly suited for the student demographic. Carver also explains that the pricing for most items is within a student budget, the inventory being mostly items within the $15 to $30 range. However unique and exciting the items in the store are, the products do not sell themselves. A loyal customer base for Dandy Lions has been established by the services that the employees provide.
The core of it all is you have to just be helpful and friendly and nice,” Carver said. “You can learn business stuff.” While Carver knows that her store can’t just be “cute and fun and nice” in order to fulfill the business side of her establishment, she also says that she seeks to emphasize the service aspects of Dandy Lions. The values behind the store, the multifaceted talents the business requires, and the commitment to the local community complement what students of Maryville College are taught with their liberal arts education.
“We want to be reflective of Maryville,” Carver said. “We want to built on service and friendships. We’re still a small town, and that’s why people come time and time again.” Carver has dedication to giving the community of Maryville a place to be treasured. Her commitment to service is especially extended to MC students, for whom a discount of 10 percent will be given on any in store merchandise with a student ID.