Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK
IF ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A LONELY ROAD, Jennifer Grayson welcomes the chance to be your walking buddy.
“In 2023, I am challenging myself to take more beach walks and breathe in fragrant Savannah,” says Grayson, founder of luxury Whitaker Street retailer One Fish Two Fish, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year.
Established in 1998, One Fish Two Fish first made its mark selling artfully enlivened antiques and fancy French lemonades to locals and tourists alike. The guests of Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room frequently escaped the long line to browse the boutique.
“We would find old sheet music and paper the inside of the drawers. I even papier-mâchéd a bust and put glitter on it,” remembers prominent interior designer Linn Gresham, who joined the One Fish Two Fish team eager for another creative outlet during her tenure as a student at Savannah College of Art and Design. “Jennifer had her children behind the counter in playpens, and it was really wholesome,” Gresham says. “We were part of a creative, very magical group of people.”
Occasionally adding to the enchanting atmosphere were celebrity appearances. Grayson recalls when actress and longtime Tybee Island resident Sandra Bullock, purchased one of her custom creations while her then-boyfriend Ryan Gosling, entertained Jennifer’s daughter, Sophie. “I looked over and Ryan Gosling was twirling her around,” adds Grayson.
As the business and her children, Sophie (22) and Gray (20), grew, Jennifer put far-flung antiquing trips on hold. Instead, she settled into Savannah, purchasing her shop’s building with next-door neighbor, Gale Singer, founder of Circa Lighting (now Visual Comfort & Co.).
“Gale and I bought our first building in 2002 with a [Small Business Association] loan and a handshake deal from a bank. I am certain that would not happen today,” Grayson says with a laugh. “We started in tiny spaces with big dreams and a secret warehouse that joined our stores by their backrooms. We called ourselves ‘The Wild Women of Whitaker.’”
“Jennifer is like Madonna, the queen of reinvention. She’s reinvented that store’s look at least eight times.” — Linn Gresham, interior designer
The gutsy bet paid dividends. Circa and One Fish Two Fish expanded their footprints while new business owners — many of them former One Fish shop employees empowered by Grayson to start their own boutiques — trickled into the retail corridor, forming the backbone of what is now known as the Downtown Design District.
“When we first started our businesses, people were going to other places to buy home furnishings — New York, Chicago, Charleston,” says Singer. “Now, we have people who want to be able to get things locally, to support local businesses.”
“There’s something innate about being successful, and Jennifer was just born that way,” says her longtime friend, Susan Mason of Susan Mason Catering. “She’s got a great business head and a good eye.”
Some may be surprised to learn that One Fish Two Fish was the first retailer to sell Savannah Bee Company honey. “I told owner Ted Dennard that if he brought me honey, I would sell it in the store,” Grayson says. “He walked in with a basket tucked under his arm with plastic squeezy bears full of honey. I said, ‘Ted, those bottles are for the grocery store, not a boutique.’ So, we saved our Lorina French lemonade bottles for him to reuse, and those became Savannah Bee Company’s first longneck honey bottles.”
While others might see the empty containers as nothing more than recycling, Grayson saw the bottles as a beautiful business opportunity.
“I have learned from Jennifer to see the beauty in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary,” says Grayson’s friend and Seabolt Real Estate associate broker, Melinda Martin Bailey. “Jennifer’s passion for what she does and her willingness to stay the course during soft times has encouraged other entrepreneurs to follow suit.”
Grayson’s eye continuously prompts her to rethink her store’s offerings, swapping antiques for the elevated serving pieces, fine and fashion jewelry, handbags and sought-after gifts seen today.
“Jennifer is like Madonna, the queen of reinvention,” says Gresham. “She’s reinvented that store’s look at least eight times.”
Singer echoes the sentiment: “She has done a very good job at pivoting from what her original thoughts about what her business would look like to what her customer is looking for.”
This year, with a quarter century of retail experience behind her, Grayson is reflecting on her successes — business at One Fish Two Fish and The Annex (her women’s clothing boutique across Whitaker Street) is booming — and launching yet another glamorous development.
“Luxe is my newest venture. It is the beginning of my quest for special finds and one-of-a-kind pieces,” says Grayson. “Now that I am an empty nester, I look forward to getting back in the hunt a little farther from home.”
Luxe shares a building with The Annex. Inside, against a backdrop of slate and white painted brick, an ornately detailed antique Louis Philippe commode, hand-carved alabaster bowls, gilt mirrors and decorative lamps dot the walls between racks of summer dresses and designer jeans. Bailey has helped her stage the expanded space.
“ Savannah and I have grown up together. We have become more stylish, more polished and more well-known.” — Jennifer Grayson
In another room, Grayson turns a spotlight onto a heavily patinaed French bust hanging shyly in a corner. “This is the stuff I love,” says Grayson. “She must have been in someone’s garden forever.”
Still, Grayson’s eye continues searching. When a customer’s handmade purse — a supple white calfskin number accentuated with green embroidery — catches her attention, Grayson convinces the artisan to make more for sale at One Fish Two Fish.
“I never quit learning or being inspired by my customers, my employees, my family, my friends and even strangers on the street,” says Grayson.
Beyond her impressive entrepreneurial track record and real estate portfolio, Grayson has built an enviable reputation as a faithful friend and superlative mother.
“Jennifer has a very balanced life. She’s a great mother, she’s got great kids, a great marriage, she has friends and she runs a very successful business,” says Mason. “Jennifer’s taught me how to be whimsical and fun to be with, but a serious entrepreneur.”
This balance of easy-going elegance and grit, and the tireless support of her village, have kept her moving forward when the road has felt long.
“Above all, in the 25 years of One Fish Two Fish, I have learned about resilience and loyalty. I am driven and humbled by the loyalty my customers have shown me over the years,” says Grayson. “Savannah and I have grown up together. We have become more stylish, more polished and more well-known.”