Oak Lawn gift shop opened with one location in Austin back in 1986
Nuvo owner Jeff Wright said he based the concept of his original Austin store on several shops in New York and on Arresta, a store owned by Ken Knight on the corner of Reagan Street and Cedar Springs Road in Dallas.
“I used to come to Dallas for fun,” Wright said. “I went to Arresta and it was like I entered an oasis.”
The original Nuvo opened on Guadalupe Street, just north of the University of Texas campus in Austin.
After looking around the city for the right location to open his new store, Wright said he found what he thought was the perfect location. At the time, that space was occupied by a women’s clothing store.
But as his partner, Jon Bonsignore, said, Wright was a great salesman. He found a different location where he thought the clothing store would do well and convinced the owner of the women’s store to move. Wright took over the lease on Guadalupe Street and opened Nuvo 30 years ago this past week.
Bonsignore said not only did Wright get the location he wanted, but the clothing store thrived in its new location. But Arresta closed on Cedar Springs Road a little more than a year later.
“Lots of people who came in [to Nuvo in Austin] after Arresta closed said there was no fun place to shop in Dallas,” Bonsignore said.
The Austin store was doing well and it made sense to open in a Dallas location, Wright said. And he and Bonsignore didn’t have to look further than the old Arresta space to find the perfect location. They opened Nuvo in Dallas in July 1988.
Nuvo has always been a great place to find gifts and original cards, but the merchandise mix has evolved over the years. When they arrived in Dallas, Bonsignore said, the customer was more sophisticated.
In Austin, they carried a line of earrings for $30, which they sold mostly to college students. In Dallas, customers asked for higher quality, so they upgraded their line to the $200-to-$1,000 range. They’ve been carrying product from some jewelry designers for 20 years.
Bonsignore said in the early 1990s, duvets became popular on beds. So, “We had several people in Dallas make bed skirts, shams and duvets for us,” he said. At one point, they had three beds in the store to display the linens.
But as big linen companies started doing duvets, sales dropped. “That business dried up for us as fast as it erupted,” Bonsignore said.
In Austin, Nuvo carried T-shirts. In Dallas, Union Jack, Off the Street and other stores were all selling T-shirts, so the Dallas store dropped that category in the Cedar Springs store pretty quickly. “As our merchandise mix became more sophisticated, T-shirts didn’t belong in the store,” Bonsignore explained.
Dinnerware was another item that had a good run, until their primary supplier was purchased by a larger company, which put an end to the line’s innovative products. But as bookstores in Dallas have become rare, coffee table books have grown as a category for Nuvo.
Wright said the company expanded once more to a Houston location. But after tiring of having to travel constantly between the three stores, he and Bonsignore decided to close the Houston location, which was under-performing, and they sold the Austin store. Then three years ago, Nuvo in Dallas moved from its original address on Cedar Springs Road to its current Oak Lawn Avenue location, two blocks away.
Bonsignore said they hadn’t really wanted to move. But they had been in the Cedar Springs Road location for 25 years and their lease was coming due. It was time to give the store a fresh, new look, starting with the need to replace the black vinyl tiles that had been in the store since it was Arresta.
Bonsignore and Wright had always had a good relationship with their landlord, and they expected her to renew the lease and split the cost of the remodel, something common in retail leases. They planned on work being done nights so that the store wouldn’t have to be closed more than a couple of days.
Instead, Bonsignore said, the landlord told them that if they tore out the tiles, the space would have to go through complete asbestos abatement. Everything in the store would have to moved out and the space closed for several weeks. They had no place to move some of their large fixtures or store merchandise during the remodel and they didn’t want to be closed that long.
Still, “The idea of moving was overwhelming,” Bonsignore said.
They found a location they loved, in the building with Parigi, and when the landlord heard they were looking for a new space, he said, “Oh, God, we would love to have you.”
So rather than close, they moved two blocks away.
They hired movers who specialize in moving fine pieces. One table was so big, the only way they were able to move it was by lifting it on furniture dollies and rolling it down the street.
Wright said the new location is so quiet compared to their old space: “It’s nice not hearing fire engines.” He also likes the glass in the front and back of the space, and he loves having parking in the back that they share only with Parigi.
Wright said he and Bonsignore have talked about retiring. But that discussion always ends with the question, “What would we do?” Most of their staff has been with them for years, and they want those employees to know they can have a career at Nuvo.
“I guess we’ll be here til we drop,” Wright said.•
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2016.