Airee Edwards (AB ’99) wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s in fabric design, but she knew she wanted to stay in Athens.
So she looked for a business opening, asking herself what was missing, what did Athens not have?
The answer: an open market where anyone could sell their vintage furniture, handcrafted items, art, or whatever, really.
“I went to what seemed like every bank in Athens, and I heard a lot of no’s,” Edwards says. But with savings from waiting tables and taking money off the house she’d bought, “a risky move” as she describes it, Edwards convinced a local bank to lend her what she needed to open Agora in 2002. (Agora means “open marketplace” in Greek.)
The only problem? Edwards didn’t have a business degree. But growing up, she’d followed her mother from one craft fair to the next, selling tissue box holders they fashioned from vintage fabrics. That early exposure to entrepreneurship stuck with her.
So she learned as she went, eventually outgrowing the little shop at the corner of Clayton and Pulaski. Sellers had also begun bringing in higher-end items, including women’s clothing and accessories, and Edwards’ husband, attorney and Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards (JD ’10), suggested she move the fashion items to a new store a few blocks away on Broad Street, right across from North Campus.
For a while, the Edwards family headed both stores, an exhausting but incredibly rewarding job. But she eventually decided to focus on one of her first loves—fashion—and grow the now iconic vintage fashion store on Broad, selling the furniture store that would become Atomic Vintage.
When you walk into the recently renovated Agora Vintage, you see an Art Deco-inspired cabinet lined with bags from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès, just to name a few. But there are also less expensive, gently used Coach, Tory Burch, and Marc by Marc Jacobs bags toward the back of the store. The counter display is full of beautiful, estate jewelry.
To the left, rows of vintage and modern clothes, all marked significantly below retail. Designer shoes are toward the back.
Honored Bulldog Business
But what makes Agora Vintage stand out is Edwards herself. She’s almost always in the store, greeting customers, suggesting items she knows they have to have, and tracking down pieces they’ve inquired about. It’s that attention to detail that has landed Agora several times on the Bulldog 100, which lists the fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni. Agora Vintage has made the list an outstanding six times in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.
But she never forgets the place that made it all possible, regularly speaking in classes at UGA and supporting the Georgia Museum of Art.
“I tell them the whole story about how I couldn’t get a loan and was eating potato chips for a year, thought I was going to get scurvy,” Edwards says. “I now own a business that allows me to live securely and enjoy some success. UGA helped me build that.”
This story was originally published in Georgia Magazine.