Avec Moi: Bob Roethemeyer

Bob Roethemeyer has spent his life in retail, rising through the ranks of big-name companies like Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma. After more than 30 years working in malls, Bob decided he needed a change—change that came in a light-bulb moment on his 50th birthday.

“I had to say, ‘What do you want to do for the rest of your life?’” Bob said. “I wanted to spend my time doing the parts of my job that I loved.”

For Bob, a big part was the people. So he began to turn an antique mall booth into Avec Moi, one of the most sought-after shops in Downtown Franklin. With the historic Franklin Theatre in its front window and Starbucks a stone’s throw down the street, the French-inspired shop has met much success since its March 2009 opening. It’s found its niche on Main Street with an easy blend of timeless women’s accessories, home décor and gift-giving items.

“I love classic French style and European quality. And I’ve paid attention to what the customer wants,” Bob said. “I’ve always said you build a business one customer at a time.”

A step inside the specialty gift shop, the appeal is immediately apparent.  One-of-a-kind treasures are everywhere, from vintage glassware–“stacks of dishes make me happy”—to non-seasonal velvet pumpkins, rich leather flasks and K. Hall candles, the source of the sweet scent that constantly hovers. It’s an assortment of old and new, and it’s nearly all hand-picked by Roethemeyer from markets and antique extravaganzas.

“Affordable is key here,” he said. “Merchandising is a part that’s always been enjoyable for me.”

Perhaps Avec Moi’s most defining trait is the extravagantly decorated tables that meet customers throughout the floor. The shop’s table-setting reputation has reached local acclaim akin to the likes of Bergdorf Goodman’s famed window dressing.

“I just love doing it,” he said. “I always joke that in heaven, I’ll be decorating tables.”

Avec Moi’s Downtown Franklin location has lent it a regular customer base that spans the country, from Middle Tennessee to western New York to Georgia and Michigan.  Quirky gift books, brightly colored scarves, glass cake stands, inexpensive jewelry and tasteful fleur-de-lis décor gives the shop a merchandising mix that’s just as appealing to a tourist as it is to a local customer. Roethemeyer says that just the other day he spoke to people from Chicago, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Australia.

“I don’t think I heard a Southern accent in the store until late afternoon,” he said. “I meet people from everywhere.”

Though he’s lived in Franklin for the last 20 years, Bob says the area’s magnetic draw has remained as strong to him as it did two decades ago.

“I love the fact that it’s like living in Mayberry,” he said. “I’ve made great relationships here. I feel the same way Franklin visitors say they do: I fell in love with the rolling hills and the people.”

Bob and his sleek, silver hair have become such a staple on Main Street since the store’s opening that he was recently elected president of the Downtown Franklin Association. He’ll be filling the position after spending two years as the board’s vice president.

Downtown Franklin Association Director Nancy Williams says that the position couldn’t have found a better-suited person.

“Bob brings a wealth of retail experience and he’s been part of everything in Downtown Franklin since Avec Moi opened,” Williams said. “Even though his store name means ‘for me,’ he’s endlessly generous in helping out others in the historic district.”

Bob says he’s excited about the role, and ready to fill the shoes of former president Andy Marshall, owner of Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant.

“Andy’s a smart businessman and a great leader,” he says. “I look forward to my role, more as a facilitator than a president.”