Backstory: Wrestling and food trucks help spark framer’s business

vbridges@newsobserver.comApril 22, 2013 

Shonna Greenwell of Rebus Works and pH seven near downtown Raleigh.


  • Advice from Shonna Greenwell

    •  Be willing to change.

    •  Learn about business if you are an art student.

    •  If you think you can do it, you probably can.

— In an effort to pay her bills in a sputtering economy, Shonna Greenwell brought wrestling shows and local food markets to attract crowds to her gallery and frame store.

“I realized I needed to kind of change what I was doing,” said Greenwell, 41, owner of Rebus Works fine arts and crafts gallery and pH Seven, a custom frame shop on Kinsey Street near downtown Raleigh. “I had to keep my house.”

When the place first opened, the concept was to have a high craft, fine art store and a frame shop in one space, Greenwell said.

Greenwell, who received a degree in art from the University of Arizona, moved to Raleigh in 1998 and secured a framing position at Jones Corner Studio. At the time, she told owner Merritt Jones she wanted to know everything about his business, Greenwell said, because she had a three-year plan that included opening a frame shop of her own.

However, Jones told her it would take five years to learn everything, Greenwell said.

Jones was right. In 2003, Greenwell opened Rebus Works with a partner, and at the same time opened pH Seven as the sole proprietor. The Rebus Works partnership dissolved after about two years, and Greenwell took over, she said.

“It is a very fickle business,” Greenwell said.

Rebus Works’ revenue, which couldn’t support one person much less two, annually peaked in November, December and January, but fluctuated throughout the rest of the year.

Framing income from pH Seven helped cover Greenwell’s bills until 2009, when revenue dropped about 35 percent.

Food brings in the money

To generate more revenue, Greenwell expanded her shop’s handmade concept by selling food, including Durham-based Locopops frozen treats, chocolates from Raleigh’s Elemental and other local items.

In April 2010, Greenwell organized a food truck rodeo and wrestling match featuring local wrestling group Gimmicks Only Underground Grappling Entertainment or G.O.U.G.E.

Income from the food trucks covered the cost of the wrestling show.

Greenwell used the show as an opportunity to start advertising for the first “Saturday Market at Rebus Works,” which she rolled out a couple of weeks later. The year-round market, which originally ran from April to November, brings vendors, including North Carolina farmers and local food trucks, and customers to her shop on Saturday mornings.

The market charges vendors $20 to participate.

Rebus Works hosts about four combination wrestling shows and food truck rodeos a year, along with other events such as pop-up restaurants.

The improving economy and the extra traffic from the Saturday Market has helped Rebus Works increase its business, Greenwell said. So much so that Rebus Works is expanding into a 1,800-square-foot space in the basement of her building. The new area will house two artists, the frame workshop and a place for events and kids camps.

“The artists and my workshop will be open the first of May,” Greenwell said. “And the downstairs event space will be ready to go in June.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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