Boutique Apparel and Footware making a difference in Five Points South
“Alchemy is a code word for transmuting humans into gold, it’s about turning our base qualities of fear, ignorance, hatred, and shame into love and fulfillment.”
For Ace Graham, opening a storefront in the heart of Five Points South was never just about selling shoes.
“Alchemy is a store… it’s one thing but it’s really a lifestyle business of footwear and apparel of mixing demographics and breaking down barriers,” Graham explained.
Graham grew up as a military kid and relocated every 12-18 months.
“I don’t remember anyone from before I was 15,” he recalled.
That constant state of transition gave him a nuanced understanding of different cultures and the ability to empathize with different kinds of people.
“Before I lived here I worked for brands selling to American customers on bridging the gap between the European Union and the United States of America”, Graham said. “We wanted to open a store based on that relationship we developed in Europe.”
Those roots in Europe landed Graham there for the beginning of his adult life when he started work as a brand consultant and advised distributors of premium goods, on ways to sell to American customers. He brought his talents to the US and opened Alchemy as a creative boutique in 2015 in the heart of Five Points. His passion for high-end-streetwear created an avenue to challenge social barriers. He opened Alchemy as a space to start those conversations.
Graham said the premium goods and specialty brands that they work with give them the credibility to welcome all kinds of people into their space.
“We want people to be able to come into this space and be able to interact with each other and learn something about each other because at the end of the day I think there are a lot of issues in our society because we don’t understand each other” he explained.
“It was about where we could go so that we can be pioneers and do the work in our community and where we could kind of create this culture and build on it. There is no one here who does what we do so that is what landed us here,” Graham said.
Seeing the needs in Birmingham and having the resources that come with brand partners including Nike, Adidas and Puma gave Graham the idea to take community outreach to a new level.
Graham started meeting these needs on a wide-scale level with Alchemy Cares, the non-profit organization that he is the co-founder of. They focus on fashion, art, and music and are a platform for up-and-coming artists to help them develop brands, get product placement and create business platforms. The work they do through Alchemy Cares is directly related to their brand partners through the store.
Graham explained, “Me sitting down with Puma, I’m gonna say, ‘Sure we are gonna sell goods and exchange cash and products but what are you gonna do to help me support my community?’ Our work through Alchemy cares is directly connected to our retail partners and it is about giving back to the community as best as we can.”
The windows of Alchemy are full of display shoes and a lot of the time display shoes are not sold. Graham and the team at Alchemy could have turned these shoes in for compensation but instead, they decided to check in on their neighbors. They all hopped in the back of a pickup truck one day after work with 50 pairs of shoes and just drove around downtown looking for people who needed some new ones.
“Yo what kinda shoes do you wear… Ok well take those off here is a new pair of shoes” Graham said they shouted from the back of the pickup.
“That was a gesture from us just because we wanted to put shoes on people. This wasn’t just a one-time thing.”
Alchemy’s brand partners got wind of this gesture and wanted to be involved. This year, Graham and his team are on track to give away 100 pairs of shoes.
Graham’s generosity is not limited to one-time events or fundraisers, this is his lifestyle and he has cultivated the relationships to support him in his efforts to provide for his community.
Graham makes it a point to get to know everyone on his block, whether that is streetneighbors, restaurant owners, or fellow runners he passes during his daily exercise. He developed relationships with each of them. One specific relationship was the caveat for “The Alchemy Experience” which is extension of Alchemy Cares.
Graham told The Local about this relationship. “We met Roy who is a gentleman who fell on some hard times during the covid 19 pandemic and was a little bit discouraged. We felt like we could help with that. One day Michael (Alchemy’s project manager) walked by and he asked Michael to take his picture and I saw it and went and talked to him and said “yo man I want to get you a hotel room.”
Graham and the team got Roy a hotel room at The Homewood Inn and Suites. After cleaning himself up they went and got him some fresh clothes and shot some photos with him. They stocked his fridge and went out for a team dinner with Roy.
“We just wanted to make him sell welcome and connected to us”, Graham said. “We all has a good experience”.
Since that day, Graham and Roy have a growing relationship. They got Roy a cellphone and talk a few times a week and are in the process of getting him an apartment.
“It seems like this ‘Alchemy Experience” or this one-time thing but it’s more than that. It is just our relationships. It is just a way for us to stay connected to our community and help people as much as we possibly can,” Graham said.
Alchemy is an extension of Graham’s passion for his community. He uses the resources from his business to reach those in need. This is a natural extension of his lifestyle. While being backed up by Alchemy’s brand partners, they are coming together to make a difference in Birmingham.
Graham explained that this year we learned a lot about essential vs. non-essential careers. Because of COVID, nothing was certain, Graham knew to not take any of it for granted. If someone was not an “essential career” everything they did was subject to change. Graham explained that during that time, you could make one mistake and suddenly lose everything you have. He was acutely aware that it could all flip on a dime. He knows not only was this a possibility during COVID, but for all of life. Life throws so much at you and one mis step could result in a loss of everything you know and have. This empathy and understanding keeps Graham as a well-respected business owner, neighbor, and friend to all in Five Points and all of Birmingham. For Graham, it has never just been about selling shoes.
“What’s the difference between me, a 35-year-old business owner, and a 62-year-old guy on the street… a couple of bad decisions. I see them in that light and I understand that I’m no different than anybody else, I’m trying to figure out how to be myself just like anybody else.”