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VIProfile: Scott Schimmel & Lisa Sorensen




STORY BY GAY LYONS WITH PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNIE ANDREWS

When Scott Schimmel waited on Lisa Sorensen’s table in May 2000, the couple could not have predicted that three years later they would open the first of their Bliss stores in that same space.

Lisa and her daughter Victoria Ianopollo were dining at Lula, Mahasti Vafaie’s restaurant at 24 Market Square, a few doors down from The Tomato Head, which she and husband Scott Partin still own.

Scott was pursuing a masters in experimental medicine at UT and working at Lula. Lisa, a single mother who had recently returned from living in Europe, was making ends meet with a full time job at Security Service Network and a part time job at Dillard’s. Both were up for a change and a challenge.

“We both have an entreprenurial spirit,” said Scott. “And we wanted to be part of downtown.”

“Living in Europe, you don’t see the same thing twice,” Lisa said. “Shopping should be fun, not a chore.”

“We said, ‘let’s dip our toe in it,’” remembered Scott. “The space at 24 Market Square was already renovated. We could use the bar for our counter.”

“Those were the days when you could get a second mortgage by calling your bank,” he continued.

“We started with one employee, and we didn’t pay ourselves for a long time,” said Lisa. “We weren’t losing money; we were putting it back into the business.”

“What we wanted was furniture,” she continued “but for furniture, you need more space.”

In 2005, more space came in the form of 1800 square feet at 29 Market Square.

“Hiring dedicated display staff became important to us,” she said. “We hired Trent Smith, who had been the visual merchandiser for Anthrpologie. He helped us understand the importance of the visual impact.”

“Trent said, ‘you need to do clothing,’” said Lisa. “We said ‘No, no, that’s another market.’ But we bought some things, and they sold well, so we moved home goods to the furniture store and added clothing and shoes.”

In 2008, Scott and Lisa opened Bliss Home at 7240 Kingston Pike in The Gallery Shopping Center.

“To get serious about furniture, we needed more space and dedicated parking,” explained Lisa. “The StoreHouse had closed, but the 13,000 square foot space was still set up to be a furniture store.”

In addition, Scott and Lisa opened Bliss Home stores outside of Knoxville: 30,000 square feet in Nashville and 24,000 square feet in Louisville, Kentucky

They also changed the downtown model: Bliss Home on Market Square became Tori Mason Shoes in 2015.

“But we knew we wanted a bigger store, and we knew we wanted to combine the [downtown] stores,” said Lisa. “There was nothing on Market Square, so we looked at the 400 block of Gay Street. We depend on foot traffic. We want to be a destination, but we want foot traffic, too.”

In November 2017, the couple opened Bliss & Tori Mason Shoes at 445. S. Gay Street.

“It is so much easier to shop now because there’s so much space,” said Scott. “People want to stay longer. Husbands can sit on the couch. Strollers can come in.”

The latest Bliss Home location opened this year at West Town Mall.

“We never thought we would be in the mall,” said Lisa.

“A guy from Simon [Properties] kept calling,” said Scott. “We kept telling him no. He kept calling. He said, ‘My job is to find the best local stores.’”

“We realized not everyone is going to come downtown,” he continued. “We’ll ask customers at the mall, ‘Have you heard of our downtown store?’ ‘No.’ That hurt a little bit, but it’s an opportunity for new customers.”

The family includes Lisa’s daughter, Victoria, and their son, Oliver.

“Victoria grew up downtown,” said Lisa. “When Oliver was born, we started taking Saturdays off. We needed family time.”

Being together at work and at home suits Scott and Lisa. “I’ve quit a couple of times,” joked Lisa. “We had to figure out our roles. Certain things I’m better at; certain things he’s better at.”

“We’ve gotten good at understanding our boundaries,” added Scott.” “It works,” said Lisa. “And we actually like each other.”

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