Small business Monday – spotlight on Frontera

Birmingham AL
Nolen Graves, owner of Frontera. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Happy Fall, y’all! Feel that cool nip in the air? Nolan Graves, owner of Frontera, tells us where to get a fire pit (and where the Birmingham chiminea craze started a few years ago) in this week’s installment of Small Business Monday!

Birmingham AL
Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

I’m Nolan Graves, owner of Frontera, which has been open for twenty years.  I had been in the corporate world for years, working for Oscar Mayer and Coca Cola in Louisiana.  When I moved back to Birmingham, I found it difficult to get a job in corporate, so a guy I’d been friends with since kindergarten and I drove a truck down to Mexico, filled it up (with pottery and metal work) and came back and sold products from my place in Vestavia.

Birmingham AL
Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Then I got the chance to move into this building. When we moved here (3022 3rd Avenue South), there was nothing.  Pepper Place was just getting started.  We started off with a retail space in the front and a curtain to separate the warehouse space in the back.

a DSC 0606 Small business Monday - spotlight on Frontera

We ended up purchasing a 15,000 square foot building a mile from here.  We did wholesaling, too.  We’d fill a truck and drive up to Huntsville, stopping along the way to sell to garden shops.    We went from nothing to doing million dollars a year in sales.  Sloss owns our building now and plans to finish out the alley in back like a New Orleans scene.

a DSC 0626 Small business Monday - spotlight on Frontera
Melissa Robertson, right, has been “president” (as Nolan explains) of Frontera for two years. Gwen Harkness, left, is adding to her Christmas tree collection. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

It’s fire pit season!  I didn’t sell any last year because of the drought and the burn ban.  But we’re looking forward to selling a lot this year!  We’ve got a 3/16″ steel, lifetime guarantee pit.  (Like and share their fire pit post on Facebook for a chance to win one!)

Birmingham AL, business
Someone is going to win one of these steel fire pits! See their Facebook page for details.

Years ago, we went down to Mexico and found chimineas.   My buddy, Frank and I had just brought in chimineas.  Nobody had heard of the chiminea.  Bob Farley did a story on us for the Post-Herald.  He came in and took some pictures and talked to us and the story wound up being on page B-1 in the paper.  The afternoon the article came out, it was like Walmart in here.  We ordered a straight eighteen-wheeler full of chimineas and sold a hundred thousand dollars of chimineas in less than a month!

Birmingham AL, business
Milagros are charms traditionally left at Catholic churches as thanks for specific answered prayers.

The biggest challenge for a small business owner is big box stores and Amazon.  These will be the death knell of small businesses.  People will even buy toilet paper online now instead of supporting the guy down the street.  Whenever possible, I always try to support small businesses.

Birmingham AL, small business
Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now


For more information –

Check out this other recent small business post-

Birmingham AL, business
Frontera carries many styles of metal and wooden furniture. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now
Default image
Kristina O'Quinn
Articles: 81