|The Market, Gay Street, Knoxville, Opens July 29, 2011|
When I moved to the city a year and nine months ago one of the big complaints about living downtown was the lack of availability of groceries. A few items were available in J’s Megamart, though they were not open at night, didn’t carry fresh foods and seemed destined to close, which is what happened months later. General Store on Gay at the foot of Union carried convenience store items, so most evenings chips and a coke could be found, but a number of people expressed some level of dislike of the crowded, dark and dingy store.
Things began to change in March of 2010 with the opening of Aisle Nine on Central in the Old City. While it wasn’t an actual grocery store, but more a beer store with some canned goods and a bit of fresh food, it was a start. It wasn’t enough to make many people from the Market Square or Theater district walk down the hill with re-usable bags at the ready, but it was something in a pinch.
2011 may well be remembered as the turning point for downtown groceries. While more could happen, yet, this has been a banner year for grocery-related amenities for residents of the city. First, Charlotte Tolley and Kristen Faerber opened Just Ripe in May of this year providing fresh and locally or regionally produced fare along with an excellent cheese selection, Rick’s great breads and fresh, healthy in-store prepared options for carry-out. They maintain a commitment to independent producers and sustainable food systems and community.
Jackson Avenue Market opened the same month on Jackson Avenue in the JFG building and, similarly to Aisle Nine, is predominantly a convenience store with a large beer selection, but with a bit of a deli component and bread from Harry’s around the corner on Gay Street.
|Dairy Aisle: Benton’s Bacon and more|
The largest entry into the downtown grocery market opened this past Friday. The Market is a Maryville-based operation that joined forces with H.T. Hackney in the Fidelity Building at 504 S. Gay Street. It becomes the largest grocery store downtown and is, in some ways, a blend of all the others. The front section of the store stocks items not unlike the General store it replaced, with an emphasis on convenience items such as candy bars, pain relievers, chips, fountain cokes and coffee.
|Fresh Vegetables from Local Farms: The Market, Knoxville|
|Vegetable case, The Market, Knoxville|
This is followed by an impressive fresh vegetable section which is supplied from local farmers to the extent possible, with farms in the Maryville area being the largest of the vendors.
|Grocery and Specialty items share the center of The Market, Knoxville|
|Specialty Items such as San Marzano canned tomatoes|
Further into the store, past the convenience items, is a healthy blend of organic and specialty grocery items not unlike that found at Fresh Market or Earth Fare alongside items such as Lean Cuisine and Honey Nut Cherios more likely to be found in a Kroger or Food City.
|Beer on tap for growlers and, soon, by-the-glass|
|Vienna Coffee Beans (Grinder Provided)|
There is an extensive beer selection with an emphasis on less common brews. Beer is also offered on tap for take-out in refillable Growler jugs available for purchase. In close proximity to the beer is an extensive selection from Maryville’s Vienna Coffee Company’s various whole bean coffees. A solid dairy section is included with, once more, a blend of typical grocery store fare and more exotic or local items, such as Benton’s bacon.
|Seafood Case at The Market, Downtown Knoxville|
|Pork Chops, roasts, sausage and deli meat at The Market, Knoxville.|
|Steaks, Homemade meat balls, lamb chops at The Market, Knoxville.|
In the very back (and easy to miss if you aren’t careful) is a pretty impressive meat case. Most of the meat is grass-feed only, so you don’t get the nasty stuff most operations feed their animals. It is, accordingly, not Walmart prices, but it is better than the meat you’d find at Walmart and downtown residents don’t have to fire up the internal combustion engine to purchase it. Included is a seafood case and less-common cuts like lamb chops and bison along with the beautiful steaks you might expect.
So, we’ve gone from nothing to a pretty good foundation in the grocery arena in a very short time. It’s one less criticism that can be leveled at the choice of living downtown, though critics will cite the prices as problematic. Honestly, my budget is such that I can’t buy all my groceries downtown and will have to rely on less expensive stores in other parts of town for toothpaste, shampoo and paper products. The same is true of some specific items that I still can’t find downtown.
Having said that, I certainly will buy as much as I can afford of what is offered downtown. It’s like the other businesses (and events) we’ve discussed on this blog: If we want them, we better support them. We’re beginning to see some overlap in the businesses such as Just Ripe and The Market. Just Ripe was first and they’ll always have a bit of my heart for that. Each also have very unique and special features. If we want to preserve those unique features we’ll need to support both places.
I’m hoping downtown residential development has progressed to the point that we can sustain these businesses. I think we are ready. (I also think we are ready for a bagel shop and a bread shop, but that’s a blog for another day.) I’m very glad to welcome The Market to the city as they expand our mix of food options. I’ll see you there and at the other stores with your re-usable bags.