Not a country or a new political party, The Republic of Floyd has been more a state of mind, the brainchild of Tom Ryan, a writer of satire, weekend bartender, music event promoter, art agent, and a businessman who approaches business as an artistic pursuit. “If you can’t draw, you pick another canvas,” said the entrepreneur, who, with the opening of his new Locust Street retail store, is about to make The Republic of Floyd a downtown destination.
The idea for The Republic of Floyd was conceived on the road in 1998 when Ryan was regularly commuting between his current home of Floyd and West Virginia, where he ran a successful chain of mobile home dealerships until 2001. As a onetime co-owner of Floyd’s Harvest Moon building, Ryan’s initial plan was to produce everything from a newsletter and merchandise, to “a UFO landing site” on the store property. With the dissolution of the Harvest Moon partnership, he was left with an incorporated business but no product, and so, he set about to reinvent himself.
The first project to come under The Republic of Floyd umbrella was The Floyd Enquirer, a monthly online publication in the tradition of Mad Magazine but with a Floydian twist. With the Enquirer, Ryan (a.k.a. T-Bone) put his “sharp ear and disturbed sense of humor” to use, gleaning material from tending bar at Floyd’s Pine Tavern and as a regular of the Floyd coffee house scene. Recent tongue-in-cheek stories and mock scandals reported in the Enquirer have included Girls of Floyd Gone Wild, Curse of the Cute Puppy Syndrome, A Really Bad Hair Day, and The Floyd Rumor Mill.
Once the Enquirer was established with a readership, Ryan’s creative canvas grew. Inspired by the abundance of artistic talent that Floyd has become known for, and aware of the growing trend towards tourism in the area, Ryan began representing untapped artists, as well as established ones like potter Joey Jones, through the Republic of Floyd website (republicoffloyd.com), gallery shows, and event vending.
But Ryan doesn’t just represent local artists, he also collaborates with them. Painter Emily Williamson, batik artist Barb Gillespie, and graphic designer Elaine Martinez have all worked with Ryan to create a line of wholesale and retail merchandise – t-shirts, caps, mugs, and postcards – bearing original Republic of Floyd designs, which will now be featured in The Republic of Floyd Emporium, next to the New Mountain Mercantile, and will continue to be available at The Floyd Country Store and Chateau Morrisette Winery.
Central to the Republic’s merchandise is the artwork of Emily Williamson. Translated from Ryan’s imagination to her pencil and brush, art for prints and brand merchandise created by Williams draws on Floyd themes and blends styles of Soviet Communist posters, San Francisco poster art of the 60’s, playing cards, Looney Tunes, and more. Along with signature merchandise and art, The Republic of Floyd Emporium will be selling imported and micro-brewed beer, boutique wines, gourmet snacks, domestic and imported chocolates, and more.
Along with managing the retail store, Ryan plans to continue other Republic of Floyd pursuits, such as the themed menu and live music events that he’s headed up at The Pine Tavern and other venues. “It’s all part of the conspiracy,” he joked about last year’s popular Annual Dysfunctional Floyd Family Picnic, in which the Louisiana raised Ryan presented a full Cajun menu to the homegrown tunes of Sonic Safari. More recently he promoted a Mardi Gras Ball at the Sun Hall to benefit Floyd’s Blue Mountain School.
From behind the counter of the brightly painted Emporium, which officially opened on March 31, Ryan explained that The Republic of Floyd has been an evolution that is still evolving. “It’s all been about getting by with a little help from my friends,” he said. ~ Colleen Redman
Note: Photo #2 is of Tom with Ashleigh Ward, an employee. Ashleigh’s mom Barb Gillespie designed and decorated the store.