One Business Closes, Another Moves Farther Out

100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2014

100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2014

The 100 block of South Gay Street is one of the few places downtown that people refer to by its number, often leaving off the name as unnecessary. It’s really the only block I’ve heard people reference this way until recently when the “700 Block” gained some currency due to the protracted construction there. I was new to blogging the first time I wrote about the block. The occasion was its re-opening after its own seemingly interminable construction, lasting a year-and-a-half. Then Mayor Haslam and others made remarks. It was a fine celebration that seemed to portend great things for the block.

That was over six years ago and the going hasn’t been so smooth for the block. Still a residential powerhouse in downtown terms, condos and apartments there continue to be filled even though the prices for each are remarkably higher, now. Several offices found there in 2010 still occupy the same spaces. Restaurants seem to fair decently: Cru Bistro and Knox Mason are long-term successes, though neither were present for that 2010 ceremony. Cru opened in late 2012 while Knox Mason opened about three months later, in 2013. Sugar Mama’s opened more recently.

What’s been remarkable, however, is that retail has never taken off on the block. Style of Civilization (women’s shoes), Bootleg Betty (second hand wedding dresses, formal wear and new boots), James Freeman Interiors and Unarmed Merchants have all closed during subsequent years. Even restaurants aren’t immune: Nama moved to the center of Gay Street; Holly’s 135 closed after about a year; Harry’s made a run for a while and left, 11 Cafe and Shuck also closed. Havana Nights closed during the construction six years ago. I’m probably forgetting others.

Bula Boutique, 115 S. Gay, Knoxville, October 2016

Bula Boutique, 115 S. Gay, Knoxville, October 2016

And now there is more news: Bula Boutique is closing within the next few days. When I wrote about the women’s clothing store in the fall of 2014, it seemed like a business perfect for the block and for downtown. Brandon and Julia schooled me on West Coast and East Coast fashion and the only question seemed to be why not have men’s clothing, as well?

It turns out that after two years, they are facing the fact that the business simply isn’t there to warrant going forward. I spoke to Julia who said they’ll keep the store open for a brief period to sell down the stock. The Facebook page says October 29 will be the final day. Go by and wish them well. I hope to sit for a chat with the two of them to look more closely at the business, the decision to close and implications for other businesses choosing to locate on the block.

Patricia Nash Designs, 109 South Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2013

Patricia Nash Designs, 109 South Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2013

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

The business which has moved is Patricia Nash. I hate to see this one go, as well, but for different reasons: It offered something unique to downtown residents and visitors. It’s significant that a purse manufacturer with an international presence makes Knoxville her home base. The store announced that to visitors and offered a unique shopping experience. Multiple Patricia Nash items have found their way into our family.

In this case, the company had out-grown the space which was used for corporate offices, design, meetings and retail. Given that Jeffrey Nash, Patricia Nash’s husband, owns so much property in the area and develops that property, there was a simple solution to the need for more space: Move to a larger building and have him redevelop it.

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

The new building, located at 1132 N. Sixth Street sits right around the border of the Parkridge and Fourth and Gill neighborhoods. For my purposes, I consider it “downtown,” though it is about a mile and a half from the heart of Uptown and about a mile from its previous location. Situated directly in front of the often discussed Standard Knitting Mills, it now stands in stark contrast to that languishing property. Predictably, for one of Nash’s projects, the building has been renovated beautifully inside and out.

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Patricia Nash, 1132 N. Sixth St., Knoxville, October 2016

Some have wondered about the retail outlet connected to the business. The good news for those interested, is that a retail space is included in the new building. It wasn’t open when I stopped by in the middle of the day Monday, so I’m not sure how extensive the hours. I had understood the retail portion would stay on Gay Street and expand to include the areas once occupied by offices, but either plans changed or I misunderstood: the retail store is no longer open on the 100 block.

That leaves several empty spaces on the block and two fewer retail stores. Two long-term retail-related business anchor each end of the block: CBI at 128 S. Gay and Nuveau Classics at 101 S. Gay. Each, however, are more show rooms and not predominantly oriented to walk-in business. That leaves only Nest, a home decor and furniture store, which opened three months ago. By all appearances it is off to a good start.

I don’t want to overstate or sound like all is lost, because businesses come and go everywhere. The block is quite possibly the prettiest in the city and it is a residential hub so far unparalleled downtown. It is our arts center and home to several successful businesses which have offices there and to Meadowsweet Massage and Wellness. But retail remains a struggle. We’ve talked before in this space about the isolation of the block. It’s a long way from the retail cluster on the 400 block.

Residents know it’s there, but visitors may not realize there is a reason to walk in that direction. The two hundred block was destroyed by Summit Hill and the 300 block is riddled with parking lots and offices, as well as street-level residential. None of that encourages visitors to explore. And so the struggle continues. Perhaps when more residents move into the new developments coming on Depot and Magnolia, the 100 block, being close to the center point between there and Market Square, will finally hit the stride so many people expected at that re-opening six years ago.

Comments

  1. Many thanks to Patricia Nash for the wonderful renovation. The office is on my daily running route – the transformation is unbelievable.

  2. Thanks for the shout out Alan! While we are sad to see our neighbors Bula and Patricia Nash leave, we are confident in the 100 Block potential for retail. Since opening July 15, we have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of foot traffic, and First Fridays provide plenty of free exposure. Let’s face it, retail is tough anywhere, especially for small startups, and do not forget businesses close for different reasons. Nevertheless, we are hopeful other businesses will also see the potential of the 100 Block and locate in this amazing part of downtown. Oh, and come check our new Indian Tapestries, they are absolutely gorgeous!!!

    Marshall and Natalie Stair- Nest Knoxville

  3. No one has mentioned the effect the impending construction is sure to have on the businesses here. I wouldn’t expect to have any steady foot traffic until that is complete. And I imagine it’s going to hit the businesses that are here pretty hard.

  4. I’d say the 100 Block would be ripe for a food market! A Just Ripe-type store, or just a small grocery. If that many people are living downtown, they need a place to grab milk, bread and other essentials. Heck, a Trader Joe’s or something would be perfect but probably a pipe dream. Residents shouldn’t have to drive to get groceries if they want a true downtown living experience.

  5. Speaking from complete and admitted bias, I will state what I have been saying for many months…we need a daytime foot-traffic draw to help sustain non-alcohol related businesses downtown. A children’s museum (The Muse) in East Old City/Jackson Ave./Central/Broadway could go a long way to helping build this type of traffic and would also bring visibility of these spots to the suburbs. Well over 50% of The Muse’s membership families are from the suburbs. In the last three months The Muse has had over 16,000 visitors (despite being closed for 10 days during the TVF). This is a lot of 9a-5p traffic, and many of them families looking to bookend their experience with food/shopping/other activities.

  6. As mentioned in some of the posts, Internet shopping is a growing threat to bricks and mortar but it’s still small relative to traditional retailing. Even Amazon may build retail spaces soon. But, compare the foot traffic around Market Square to that on the 100 Block and the core problem becomes clear. The 100 Block is isolated now between the Summit Hill Drive barrier and the railroad tracks. The Old City is still a largely late night locale with some exceptions for coffee and dinner. Imagine the 100 block with an Apple Store or as part of a newly constructed 200 block. Fantasy? Probably. But, that’s the kind of magnet needed to draw people to downtown in general and to cross Summit in particular to “shop”. There are not enough of us living downtown to support these retailers. We need people to drive from the suburbs (and even surrounding small communities) and, yes, walk, to attractive locations that are not food and drink oriented. As long as the bulk of the population would rather shop at Turkey Creek, an exploded abomination of a mall that requires consumers to drive from store to store but provides massive parking lots in front of stores, it will take a huge magnet to change the foot traffic downtown. Sorry to paint a bleak picture, but we have no one to blame for our lack of options but ourselves. And, by the way, if we want to keep our downtown pharmacy, Phoenix, I hope all of you will move your prescriptions there this week. They deserve and need all the support we can give them. (I have no affiliation other than living on the 100 Block and wanting to see Phoenix and all our retailers thrive.)

    • David Wise says:

      Please keep in mind for people venturing for furniture and home decor. Mangos is no longer in the Old City. A fantastic store called Adorn Decor & Co. is there now. Someone had mentioned Mangos in an earlier post. Just clarifying.

    • I love the Phoenix too – I work downtown and love that I can get my Rx filled on my lunch hour! However – they may want to rethink their menu. I had thought it was going to be more of a sandwich counter (like Longs Drug) and although the vintage soda fountain has it’s charm, the place is almost always deserted. Maybe it’s the $14 sundaes?

  7. Sabrina Milotte says:

    For future reference, the retail portion of Patricia Nash is open Monday-Friday from 10-6. We hope to see you there soon!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Thank you! Have the hours started? I was there at 1:30 or 2:00 yesterday and the door was locked and lights were out.

      • Sabrina Milotte says:

        Yes. We opened to the public last Monday. We’re working on getting a sign in place for the front door. If you press the intercom, we can buzz you in!

  8. I’m not sure if the front of our studio would be considered true “retail” or more of a gallery – but art sales have had a slow, steady growth over the last couple years and spiked these last few months.

  9. Nouveau Classics is as much of a walk-in store as Nest. They have lots of decor and art items to buy and take with you. Those stores along with OP Jenkins, Vine and Mango’s give that area a cluster of furnishings retailers and probably help each other survive by being close together.

    Fashion retailers like Bula and Nash didn’t have a similar cluster to help them draw customers, which I guess made it difficult considering how those stores like to group together (like at the mall). Maybe retailing will catch on if stores fill in the Jackson Terminal building and the other empty storefronts on Jackson. It will probably take one really strong anchor store to successfully kick things off.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’ll agree a little and disagree a little. An aggregate of similar retailers is clearly a good thing. I would have thought the synergy of dresses and purses side-by-side might be enough to keep that going, though I think the deomographics were a bit different for each of them. I’ll disagree on your first sentence. Nouveau Classics emphasizes design services and calls their two locations (one in Nashville), “design showrooms.” They are only open four days a week, for twenty-four hours total, and no weekends. I’m not knocking them at all to say they don’t emphasize walk-in retail, but twenty-four hours a week with no evening or weekend hours, I think, is simply a reflection of their priorities. Nest is different. They aren’t selling services outside the store like Nouveau Classics, they are selling furniture. They are also open five days a week and for forty hours, including until 6:00 PM each night and all day Saturday. Again, no criticism intended, just different, IMO.

  10. I understand most people want local only businesses downtown, but I would really like to see some standard retail open up here that may not be so niche like Warehouse Row did in Chattanooga. Also open a cell phone store in this area as it is more central to the majority of downtown residences. As Jackson gets further development (McClung area) this would go a long way in helping the block stay in business as it would also draw more people down to the 100 block who don’t live downtown from the parking garages down by the square.

    • Christine Johnson says:

      YES. Warehouse Row has its own set of difficulties, but it does feature both national and local stores — a unique and I’d assume profitable mix. I would have rather seen Anthropologie go in downtown than in Bearden, that’s for sure.

  11. The Patricia Nash space is being renovated for, I assume, a new tenant.

  12. Retail is on the Internet! So, your physical store is part warehouse and part Branding location. Madison Avenue NYC has seen many high-end long term tenants close physical stores and not relocate. People do like to try things on and hold things in their hand but that kind of shopping is a luxury these days. Why bookstores and music stores are shuttering in favor of delivery shopping. 100 block is perfect for Art Galleries but do compete with Bearden. And come on? We have all known the 100 Block. Harold’s Deli put it in the map. Developers have to really put their thinking caps on. PEDESTRIAN designs needed. Encourage people to walk around downtown by a few blocks isn’t that hard. You have to draw them in with something worth it. I walked from my parked rental car from union to find Knix Mason the only place open for “last call” one late night. Yes, it was dark and no one was around. But I am an explorer who also didn’t want to move my car. I wanted to walk around. SO? Make it easy to DO SO. Design it that way. A pedestrian bridge over gay street to help east west access? A nightclub? Make it interesting to be there and you will have no problem. Retail has really really changed. Recording studios? Film studios? Photo and Art Galleries? Remember coffee roasters? Duh!

  13. Our downtown has come along way…but this is proof that it still has a long way to go especially when in comes to retail. As does the entire city as a whole when it comes to retail. Like I’ve stated we desperately need more retail options and I just can’t understand why the ones we do get just don’t seem to last.

  14. Thank you for documenting the activity of the area on your blog. I think that we should really look at surveying the downtown population to see why people are not shopping. I would like to know their reasons. Then store owners can adjust to the demands of the shoppers. And as new stores come on the scene like little seeds, we can help them grow where they are.

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