ATLANTIC CITY — Rolled-up yoga mats were tucked in a corner of a brand new yoga studio on Tennessee Avenue.
In another room were shirts for sale that read, “This is yoga. This is community. This is Atlantic City.”
But the first thing that stood out as people walked through the doors of the Leadership Studio was the smell of fresh paint on the walls.
It’s a smell of progress, as Leadership is the first business to officially open as part of the Tennessee Avenue project, which promises to bring new merchants to the block between Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk.
The project began in February, when Alpha Funding Solutions CEO and Iron Room Restaurant owner Mark Callazzo and Authentic Partners’ co-founder Evan Sanchez impressed investors at the Urban Land Institute seminar at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The idea was to bring restaurants, bars and stores to the fallow block.
But by August, no shops had opened.
“We did get pushed back,” Calazzo said in August. “We didn’t want to just open one concept. We wanted to get four concepts going at once. It’s an island to itself over there.”
The Leadership Studio was that first opening. The studio was founded by Grace & Glory Yoga’s Alexandra Nunzi and Kathy Whitmore after more than a year in pop-up locations throughout town. It will serve as both a yoga studio and a place where people can be trained to become yoga teachers.
As far as Nunzi knows, it’s the only yoga studio in Atlantic City. She also said she’s excited to have a brick-and-mortar location on Tennessee Avenue.
“This is an opportunity to change the narrative on Tennessee Avenue. If you’re visiting from out of town, you can feel comfortable walking down the street,” Nunzi said.
Though the unveiling Thursday featured more wine and cheese dishes than child poses, the studio will officially open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Nunzi and her team will be offer free community yoga at 10 a.m. and noon.
Sanchez stood outside the yoga studio Thursday uncorking a bottle of wine. He said it felt great to have the first business open eight months after making their pitches to investors.
“We’re ecstatic and couldn’t be more happy to launch this renaissance with Leadership Studio,” he said.
Sanchez said more businesses will open in the coming months. A few buildings down will be MaDe Atlantic City Chocolate Bar: a bean-to-bar shop with hand-selected cocoa beans that can be paired with a glass of wine. Next will be the Hayday coffee shop, and last will be the Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, which is set to open by the beginning of 2018.
“We’re firing on all cylinders and we’re working to create a go-to street in Atlantic City for locals and tourists alike,” he said.
By 5 p.m. Thursday, the studio’s doors were open and people were chatting over assorted meats and cheeses. Some were checking out the studio’s apparel, while others were touring the rooms. Some locals hanging out down the street were popping their heads into the studio before stepping into to see for themselves.
Melissa Morgan, owner of the Blue Lotus Yoga in Hammonton, was among the first visitors. Morgan said the studio is a perfect start for the project and that Tennessee Avenue is a perfect home for Nunzi and her Leadership Studio family.
“This studio is a blessing to have here. What yoga does for the community is it brings people together in a whole new way,” she said. “People are finding a way to grow and it’s creating jobs for (yoga) teachers and provides a place for people that is safe.”