Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's Practically, Almost, Really Official: Urban Outfitters is coming to Knoxville!

Drawing of the proposed exterior of Urban Outfitters, 501 Market, Knoxville

At yesterday's meeting of the Downtown Design Review Board, an Urban Outfitters' representative presented the board with information regarding the exterior designs proposed by their store for the Arnstein Building. Basically an awning and sign will stretch across the front, re-designed entrance and signage will be added to the northern corners. It will be cut-out metal with LED lights.

The bigger question, of course, was, "Is this a done deal?" It was asked by a board member and the representative said the lease had not been signed, but that it was in the final stages. He referred to it as "in legal." So, it appears that barring an unexpected event, they are on their way.

Downtown Design Review Board, March 2012

Urban Outfitters Representative

Urban Outfitters Representative and a rapt audience of two (plus other reps)


And that's good, right? Right?

I've struggled with this one. Before I'd ever heard of Urban Outfitters I longed for a great tenant for the Arnstein Building. I'd read about it in Jack Neely's Market Square book, learned a little about its history and walked past it almost every day. I remember McClouds, which I thought was fine at the time, but it seemed this building deserved more.

The Arnstein Bulding, 500 Block of Market Street, Knoxville

Proposed look from the same perspective

When word circulated a couple of years ago that Urban Outfitters was interested, my first reaction was, "What's that?" I quickly learned that I wasn't in their demographic and selfishly thought, "I'll never use them, so I wish we'd get something else." Then it fell through and I felt a bit selfish.

Next we heard Lime Fresh was headed there and I was glad something would occupy the space, but I struggled to get excited about a chain restaurant. It also seemed crazy to have another Latin-themed dining establishment in such a concentrated area. Then they quietly ceased to be interested and I, once more, just wanted something in the space.

Urban Outfitters' Mobile Store, Knoxville, October 2011

In the meantime, rumors circulated that Urban Outfitters might be interested once more. They brought the mobile store to downtown Knoxville last October and I looked around enough to really feel out of their demographic. But then the more I heard about their strong appeal to college students and young professionals and the fact that they might be an anchor store that would draw a crowd downtown, I shifted back to modestly enthusiastic.

More troubling, last fall I heard about a controversy regarding their appropriation of the name "Navajo" for one of their clothing lines and I started feeling queasy. It turns out that a major conservative donor owns the store and that they have repeatedly angered numerous groups such as Native Americans, African Americans, Gays and Jews over various slogans, clothing lines, etc. It sort of goes back to the article on politics and restaurants that I wrote a few weeks ago: Does any of this impact your shopping habits?


Looks like a commitment to me!


Additional drawing of the proposed front of the building

So, it appears Urban Outfitters is coming and the western intersection of Market and Union just may be one of the coolest spots in the city with the appearance of Tupelo Honey this summer and their store across the street. And that's good, right? Tell me what you think in the comments or on the survey above.

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15 Comments:

At March 22, 2012 at 8:20 AM , Anonymous Ratchet said...

I never heard of Urban Outfitters until I found myself Christmas shopping in Downtown Asheville. I didn't look at the clothes, but judging by the other shoppers, I'm not their core demographic either. I did find some interesting gifts. Now everytime I go on a beercation to Asheville, my 7 year old always ask to go in there and look around.
I'm glad the Arnstein building will be used for something. I've always had fantasys of winning the lottery, buying that building and opening a microbrewery in it.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 8:55 AM , Blogger tthurman said...

This reminds me of how much I miss McClouds. It was a great lunch spot for us for many years.
My wife and I regularly go to Asheville for Thanksgiving, and I've walked past U O in the Grove Arcade area, but that's the extent of my familiarity. I like the idea of a brewery there too. While in St. Augustine we went to a great microbrewery/restaurant called A1A Ale Works, and it was very good. Then again I'm biased!

 
At March 22, 2012 at 8:59 AM , Blogger John in Knoxville said...

Urban guy, any news of the Walnut Street buildings? Wasn't that supposed to come up again?

 
At March 22, 2012 at 9:46 AM , Anonymous Art Wagner said...

I had read recently of the "Navajo" controversy, but your post inspired me to Google around on the company and its owner, Richard Hayne. Ouch.

Since my first encounter with UO in NYC in the minimalist 80s, I had appreciated their reputation for interesting apparel and an image of cutting edge decor that embraced shopper's desire to feel radical, with-it, even a bit politically irreverent and naughty. Although I grew out of their style demographic over the years, I continued to have a positive opinion of the company.

However with this new information, it seems the owner and the company is anything but irreverent, radical, or left wing. Hayne has been a major contributor to conservative causes and during the current Republican primaries, has been a big, big contributor to the anti-irreverent Rick Santorum.

Here's my conundrum--how does a company cultivate an image as one thing while simultaneously living and breathing the opposite reality. I guess this will require some "critical thinking" on my part.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 10:42 AM , Blogger Katie said...

I purchased a few things at the pop up store last summer and I’m excited about their arrival in the Arnstein as a large retailer downtown. Mast is a great anchor retail store for Gay Street, It would be awesome if some additional retail would move into the vacant store fronts on Gay. With all the fantastic boutiques in Market Square and the growing retail on Union, I think this will propel downtown as a shopping destination, not just a dining destination.

I just saw where a yogurt shop is going to go into 36 Mkt Square as Marble Slab is moving out. Interesting. I was really hoping for an awesome retail shop for that space as well.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite their owners politics, all that matters is how he runs his business in my opinion. If he does so with the style and substance that the brand is known for, then I don't see a problem. What he does with his own money in his personal time is no one's business. He's not an elected official, but a entrepeneur who struck gold with a smart brand. That's the American dream, no?

I for one am THRILLED as a downtown business owner to be gaining one of America's trendiest shopping locales. It could be the turn downtown needs to get over the hump of big retail.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 2:08 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

Well, I'm less than thrilled about his politics, but he has a right to believe what he wants and to support them accordingly. That said, I am a bit hesitant to shop there because I don't want my money going to support Santorum and if I shop there, that is what will happen.

But I think the store will do a good job to draw people downtown. I think then that those people will shop some of the other small boutiques. I think it's a good first step to getting more retail downtown. As I said previously, I think it's a good idea to get a few small chains (very few!) to draw crowds, because that'll end up helping small retailers and restaurants in the long run.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 5:43 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

I'm thinking we may be increasing our craft beer cred in the next little bit. I have no information, just a hunch.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

I'll post something soon. There are a lot of dangling stories that I may address in a grab-bag blog.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

The irony wasn't lost on me, either. It's odd.

 
At March 22, 2012 at 5:46 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

But see, Katie, you are way cooler than me! I generally agree with your thinking, though. Where did you hear the yogurt rumor?

 
At March 22, 2012 at 5:48 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

I think your idea of a mix is probably about right. Wouldn't it be fascinating if the Penny's building on Gay Street was taken over by the new urban concept of a . . . Penny's?!?

 
At March 22, 2012 at 8:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what kind of grants and incetives were offered. When we applied to the cbid, we were told the max was 40000 for a facade grant. Now it seems like the flood gates are opening to particular people. When I asked about them, I was told the floodgates (of money) were being closed. Give the new developers a level playing field. We did one building on the square several years ago and were told we had reached the limit. With this kind of monetary support perhaps we could have succeeded. We won't every consider downtown again. Two years after closing, we still feel the bitterness because the same few people get all the gold. New entrepeneurs don't stand a chance.
factually sour grapes. We filed bankrupcy because of our investment!
Politics as usual for the "good old boys." Isn't the CBID accountable to any overseeing committe. Arbitray huge grants should be accounted for to someone! It is the city's responsiblity to make things fair.
A VERY DISCUSTED INVESTOR WHO LOST IT ALL WHILE OTHERS are given CArTE BLANCHE.
anonymous.

Broke and bitter

 
At March 23, 2012 at 2:17 PM , Anonymous Skib said...

I firmly believe that this store will bring even more people down Union to the Daylight building and such. UO may not be my style, but not every store/restaurant needs to be for me to continue loving Downtown.

 
At March 23, 2012 at 3:25 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

I think that would be completely great. I've considered before the possibility of starting petitions to send to different small chains to catch their attention and ask them to consider opening a branch in downtown Knoxville.

 

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