"The convenience of downtown without feeling stuck..."
An ardent fan and two-time resident of Cummins Station, Susan Andrews' father had few fond recollections of Cummins Station. As he pointed out to her once when they drove past the place, he'd spent a hard part of 1950 there, hauling Admiral refrigerators on his back from the warehouse to the shipping dock at the old Radio & Appliance Company. My, how things have changed.
Not long after moving her agency to Cummins Station in 1995, she merged with another firm and moved to what she described as a "beehive of a building" in the congested middle of downtown. Two years later, "after realizing I didn't need nine partners," Andrews knew where she wanted to be.
"My husband and I own other commercial property," she says, peering out her fourth-floor windows toward the looming office towers half a mile away. "But the location here is perfect for us. Downtown, just to go to a meeting or even to lunch, was an ordeal. Here, we have the convenience of downtown without feeling stuck. And a lot of our clients are within just a few minutes of us."
Some are much closer than that. Being part of the Cummins Station community turned some of Andrews' neighbors into business associates. One client, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, is just upstairs. Another, the American Institute of Architects, is one floor down. Andrews selected Sorci and Swords to design their contemporary space, and in turn Andrews' firm has handled projects for the architects. Jive Printing and Accent Media have also become regular vendors.
"My experience with high-rises downtown is that people don't look you in the eye," Andrews says. "They walk right past you. Here, when new tenants move in, people drop by to say 'hello.' It's more like a residential neighborhood."
"I feel very secure here."
When Margaret and Fred Ellis moved Margaret's studio to the third floor of Cummins Station in 1995, they could see rows of square concrete columns extending for two city blocks, all the way to the end of the building. Though the lower floors had become well populated, Margaret and Fred were among the first tenants above street level, and things were wide open.
That's one reason why the studio retains a spare, loft-like feel, with an industrial "foreman's office" in front and sounds of pinging on metal in back, where three master craftspeople forge Margaret's designs into pieces that will be sold in exclusive stores from New York to London and Tokyo. The space, which subtly brings to mind another time, is a reminder that Margaret's jewelry aims to be timeless.
For someone whose creations have been showcased in Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada, Margaret, like her space, seems free of affectation. Where does she find inspiration for her designs? "It's not some big woo-woo, clouds-parting thing," she says with a smiling, soft Alabama inflection. "I just sit down and see what happens."
Often, it starts with finding material like the radiant turquoise she'd recently received from Arizona... "as blue as blue can get..." or her favorite medium, 22 carat gold. But what really drives her, as with many artists, is the challenge of something new. It's what led her to begin making jewelry after 18 years of teaching art. More recently, it's what led her to learn digital photography. Now she's both the designer and photographer of the jewelry that bears her name. "It's good for you to learn new stuff," she says.
But the yen for new creative horizons hasn't led her to look for new surroundings. "I feel very secure here," Margaret says (no small consideration for someone selling expensive jewelry). "We're eight minutes from our house, and I don't have to get on the interstate."
When she's traveling to trunk shows or to New York, she misses Pinky, the four-year-old whippet who accompanies her to work each day. She misses the comfort of her studio. Cummins Station is where she feels at home.