Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Breaking (and heartbreaking) Business News

After First Friday in August, one of the stalwarts of the 100 Block of Gay Street will close its doors downtown for good and, likely, make a move to the new Public Market at Turkey Creek in a much smaller version of itself. Unarmed Merchants, owned and operated by Aaron Shugart-Brown who has been an active participant in life on the 100 Block since opening the shop in December 2007. The shop features art and crafts from local, regional and international artists and artisans.
After enduring the renovations on that block, which began not too long after the business opened, and hoping events sponsored by the city and natural growth would increase foot-traffic enough to sustain the business, it appears the hopes were not well-founded. While that block is a primary downtown residential area, not enough business was generated by local residents to make the business succeed. The feeling is that the 100 block is still ascendant, but not quickly enough for this business.
Interior of Unarmed Merchants
Plans now include a large-scale reduction in inventory by reducing prices, placing some merchandise at Lox (103 W. Jackson) and opening a booth at the Public Market. It's a sad blow for the 100 block and another example of how downtown residents and visitors alike need to think of downtown as more than Market Square and the central blocks of Gay Street. If we don't, then those spots will be the extent of our little city.
This closing follows the recent Nama move to a more central Gay Street address and the closing (during the street work) of Havana Nights. Fortunately, there has been good news on the block since the renovation, including the opening of furniture store Nuveau Classics and Harry's, a semi-kosher deli. Work also continues on that block at the southwest corner of Jackson and Gay in a project that offers more retail and residential space.
Finally, and somewhat ironically, the the same day I learned the news, WATE broadcast piece that highlights the fact that downtown residences are selling very well and it features the 100 Block prominently.

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At July 20, 2011 at 8:00 AM , Blogger Clint said...

One of these days (the sooner the better) downtown Knoxville will be the place to be. The grand bandwagon known as west Knoxville is so tiresome to me.

At July 20, 2011 at 9:10 AM , Blogger JUDI M. said...

We live in west Knoxville...and LOVE downtown. We go there a lot! The vibe is great...and the food. Suggestion: get some cafes and bistros on that end to entice people to some down in the evenings and weekends. Knoxville is one great place and not just because of Turkey Creek.

At July 20, 2011 at 10:11 AM , Blogger Andrea said...

I live on 100 Block and I've been in Unarmed Merchants a time or two. I have to say that it was way overpriced to what the residents on this end of the city can afford. And the products aren't that different from what you can find at other shops in downtown. And it seems like they cater to an older demographic.

I think a lot more could be done to build up 100 Block so it is more than just a First Friday destination. There are a lot of open retail or restaurant spaces here and if we could attract businesses that cater to a younger crowd this block would really be something. I think when businesses open up here, they need to keep in mind that the 100 Block is full of young professionals and college students. Typically people without a lot of money, who like to stay up late, and who like to go out to eat or hang out in bars. A lot of the residents here hang out around the corner in Old City at one of the coffee shops or they go down to the Brewery. Those are the types of businesses we need on 100 Block. More late night restaurants and bars/coffee shops and younger, funkier retail. Rala or Reruns would do great here.

At July 20, 2011 at 10:26 AM , Anonymous Art said...

Unlike a shopping mall or strip mall area, an urban environment is a true synergistic community--Bigger businesses benefit from the uniqueness of smaller businesses; smaller businesses benefit from the traffic of larger businesses. Also, unlike strip malls, pedestrian patterns are crucial.

The 100 block, a miracle of restoration and revitalization, depends on its uniqueness. Yet it is still burdened by the pedestrian separation that the empty space of the 200 block unconsciously presents, in the same way that the Old City is burdened by the separation of business/residential nothingness between Gay and Central. Clearly, too, the loss of the pedestrian traffic that the restaurants provided to the 100 Block were factors in Unarmed Merchants decision.

UrbanGuy is certainly correct in opining that downtown must escape the gravity, although pleasant and successful, of Market Square by closing up the gaps that do not encourage pedestrians and businesses to venture beyond.

At July 20, 2011 at 11:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea nailed it. I live in Sterchi lofts and most of the people in the 100 block are students and young professionals. We need more bars and hangout spots as opposed to furniture and clothing stores.

Even in a bad economy, people still need to drink!

At July 20, 2011 at 12:50 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

UrbanGuy, you inspired me to write my own post on the 100 Block issues. I linked your entry as well. Spiniffy

At July 20, 2011 at 1:04 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Well, this obviously touched a bit of a nerve all around. I may just have to write an additional post to respond to everyone. Good conversation, everyone.


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