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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