Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 Business Review: What We Lost Downtown

In this, the second year I've written Stuck Inside of Knoxville, the pace of change continues to be breath-taking. It's sometimes hard to see as events happen, alterations are made, new faces emerge and old ones fade. In retrospect, however, a simple listing of business losses, changes and additions highlights the intense comings and goings in this relatively small patch of earth. Today we'll look at what has been lost. I doubt my memory and limited time for research will prove exhaustive, so you'll have to note in the comments additional closures I failed to recall as I wrote this.

Arby's on Gay Street closed December 30, 2010

Two closures happened just before the end of 2009, but together with another early closing, they felt like the beginning to the new year, and they were big in different ways. The closure of Arby's on Gay Street on December 30 was troubling both because of its long tenure in that location and because the location is so prime. The fact that this centrally located corner continues to be vacant a year later is troubling.

Regas closed December 31, 2010 after Ninety Years

The next day, after ninety years at the same location at the other end of Gay Street, downtown institution Regas closed its doors for a final time. Just days into the new year an emblem of downtown's resurgence, the S and W announced it was closed "until further notice." Further notice never came and three major landmark businesses were gone.

It was a pretty staggering beginning, maybe enough to make one wonder if the momentum downtown had faltered or the recession was finally asserting itself in an area that had seemed largely immune to its effects. There was enough bad news through the rest of the year that, when viewed alone, seems to support that question.

Patrick Sullivan's in the Old City Closed in June 2011

If we had known, for example, at the beginning of the year that the two most visible buildings in the Old City would be empty by summer, no doubt it would have seemed the apocalypse was certainly upon us and indeed, that's just what happened - the emptiness, that is, not the apocalypse: Manhattan's had closed the previous summer and still sat empty when Patrick Sullivan's announced its closure at the beginning of the summer. One of the first buildings rehabilitated by Christopher Kendrick in the long march that has been the return of Knoxville's downtown, it had been Patrick Sullivan's for eighteen years and was previously the lovingly remembered Annie's. With that closure the central corner in the Old City featured two empty businesses.

Notice of Night Owl's closure, December 2011

The Old City would also see the departure of the Fortunate Traveler for the Turkey Creek Public Market. In the last days of the year - and I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere - Night Owl in the Old City also closed its doors for the final time. Just a couple of blocks up the hill, the 100 Block also saw losses. Nama vacated, Unarmed Merchants cast their lot with the aforementioned Turkey Creek Public Market and late in the year, Eleven, a women's clothing store announced its closure as well.

1 Market Square sits empty, 2011

Market Square Kitchen closed April 2011

Meanwhile, Market Square was no stranger to losses during 2011. 2 Market Square was placed on the Market, leading Reruns to vacate and across at 1 Market Square, in a surprising development, long-term restaurant Market Square Kitchen closed. This meant that three corners of Market Square were vacant. It came very close to being four had Blue Coast Burrito not opened the previous month. For the jewel of downtown re-development to have three of four corners empty did not seem like a good sign. In a related development (to 1 Market Square), the Hotel Oliver, in the same building, closed for renovations. Black Market also closed on Market Square.

Ace High Tattoo closed December 31, 2011

Another closure I haven't seen reported elsewhere: As of the last day of the year, Ace High Tattoo on Clinch Avenue closed it's doors for the last time. We're told Kimberly Clark is leaving downtown as is the Revenue Recovery Corporation which employs over one hundred people in the Mechanics Bank and Trust Building on Gay Street.

Revenue Recovery Corp. announces departure, Dec. 2011

It doesn't look good. By my count that is fourteen businesses closing or announcing that they are moving and it isn't just the fact that businesses closed, it's the major brand names we lost. Take into account the prime locations losing businesses and that some still sit empty and it is disconcerting. So, do we all need to rush to escape the city before the rest of the sky falls? 

Not so fast. Tomorrow I'll look at businesses that adapted this year and become stronger as a result.

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At January 9, 2012 at 6:30 AM , Anonymous Cmmoxley said...

Great post, Urban Guy. But a little depressing. I can't wait for the next one to make me feel better! Hopefully.

At January 9, 2012 at 6:57 AM , Blogger whitefoxbeads said...

I just want to clarify that Fortunate Traveler moved to the Turkey Creek Public Market and I can report that it's always busy in there (his booth is across from mine - White Fox Bead Studio). Thanks for a great post and I am looking forward to the other side of the coin. Love your blog.

At January 9, 2012 at 7:21 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Hey guys,
Thanks for the comments. It is a little depressing but there is definitely more to the story. I'm glad to hear Fortunate Traveler is doing well in their new home.

At January 9, 2012 at 11:24 AM , Anonymous Art Wagner said...

Thanks, Urban Guy, for keeping track of the comings and goings, even if they are a bit of a buzz kill for the optimism and energy we feel downtown. However, change can also be opportunity; now may be the time for one of our municipal entities (the City, CBID, or Chamber) to be aggressively proactive in searching out businesses from elsewhere that may themselves be looking for what our downtown has to offer and who want to be in an urban environment, either for office space or retail. They really do exist, but I’m not sure that waiting for them to walk in the door is the way to make it happen.

Example—in an airport last month changing planes, I put down the Metro Pulse I was reading and the guy sitting next to me asked if he could look at it. He leafed through it and asked me about Knoxville. I gave him the one paragraph description—new mayor, revitalized downtown, urban wilderness and waterfront development, etc. He was joined by two traveling buddies and they gave me their story—three partners of a company (Outdoor design something, I didn’t catch it) and they were seriously thinking about moving their 30 employee business to a city that was more to their socio-political liking—progressive with arts and outdoor activities. These guys were clearly interested in looking at Knoxville.

I guess my point is—there are businesses that want what Knoxville has. We just have to be proactive in finding them.

At January 9, 2012 at 1:46 PM , Blogger tthurman said...

The parking problem that haunted downtown when I started working here eleven years ago is back. Years ago, eight or so, I attended a meeting at the West TVA tower concerning a large 1700+ space garage, with entrances on Vine and Jackson Ave. This was in the area across the street from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and engulfed that entire hill between the two roads. Seems to me this would go a long way toward solving some of these problems. Kimberly Clark obviously has issues with parking, and TVA can't do much with the East tower without additional parking. Regardless, the Market Square garage helped a lot once it was completed, but it's difficult to find a spot there during the day now. It would seem that a large parking facility would go a long way to alleviating many of downtown's current problems.

At January 9, 2012 at 3:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad. There just isn't a large enough population yet to support all of the businesses. I have to wonder how things would be different had the economy allowed projects like the Sentinel Tower and the south waterfront to happen. Knoxville is in serious need of infill to density and expand downtown.
Or maybe the population is just so used to their sedentary sprawl-based lifestyle that things will never change here. Too many locals still view Walmart parking lots as God's country and downtowns as rat-infested concrete sin.

At January 9, 2012 at 5:11 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Hey Everybody,
Art: That's a pretty cool conversation you had. I wonder if we fit their socio-political desires? I certainly hope someone is actively pursuing these businesses and I tend to think our new administration gets your point.
Mr. T., I think you are right about the parking and isn't it awesome that we dealt with our previous parking deficiencies and now we have the problem again! I'm pretty sure that says something good.
Mr. Anonymous: Don't go getting all depressed. This is a multi-sided coin, my friend. Keep reading!

At January 10, 2012 at 5:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget all the businesses that had to leave the L&N Station.


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