It’s been hot in Knoxville the last couple of weeks. I know I should follow that up with something funny that starts with, “It’s been so hot . . .” but I’ve never been so good at that sort of thing. Suffice to say we had back to back days that were each hotter than any day in recorded Knoxville temperature history.
We seem to have managed to make it through pretty well between fountains and several downtown businesses. I think Urban Toddler learned to say “Coolato Gellato” right after she learned to say “B.B. King” (first things first), so a trip to Gay Street is a cool relief. Now she’s taken to yelling at the television when they list attractions downtown and fail to mention Italian Ice from Rita’s. Of course we lost Marble Slab and we’re waiting on the coming of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, which strangely will open as the days start to cool a bit.
Interesting isn’t it? Three types of cool confections downtown and no two are the same: Yogurt, Italian Ice and Gellato (Ice Cream). Surely, if a new store was added to the mix to sell a cool confection, it would have to be some sort of repetition of one of these frozen varieties, right? Actually, the answer turns out to be, “Not at all.”
Pop Culture is mostly known to locals as the cart at the Farmers’ Market where it has resided in recent weeks. Actually, Jason Mitchell has also carted around to some other places, but most significantly for downtown, he’s opened up a store front. But you say you walk all around Market Square and you haven’t seen it, so how can this be so? Because he’s a pioneer! He’s stretching the idea of where one might open a business and he’s chosen a spot you might not suspect: The Medical Arts Building at Locust and Main.
It’s a bit ironic that Main Street – the very name of which implies the center of a city – is virtually devoid of commercial activity. It’s primarily the local government’s playground with a few other professionals thrown into the mix. Can a commercial business work in that setting? Well, Sam’s Cafe has been next door for years and Jason’s confident he can be successful for years to come. When I acknowledge he seems to have given this a lot of thought, he pointed out he’s “been thinking about it for years.”
So, what’s the plan? It starts with a unique offering. Yes, they are popsicles, but no, they are not frozen, flavored water. They are made from fresh fruits and, in some cases cream. The day I visited he had a range of some unlikely fruits in the process of turning into the frozen treats. A number of the treats are vegan and all are peanut and gluten free. On tap were honeydew, mango and cucumber mint along with sweet potato. Sweet potato? Yes. He’s planning to offer free samples to open a few closed minds to his unusual flavors.
He also has other plans and he’s been cautious as he’s entered the retail world. One reason for the address on Main is that it is considerably less expensive than Gay, Market Square or the 100 Block, places where clusters of retail have become established. He’s kept his day job and he hopes to market his popsicles through local healthy grocers such as Three Rivers Market and possibly Earthfare. He’s considering offering space to local artists and on First Fridays as his neighbor, First Baptist Church, has done recently.
And what happens when the weather turns cold? How about a welcoming tea shop on Main Street for all those cold bureaucrats? It might just work. Meanwhile with the cart cranking out sales and the other potential streams of income that he has in mind and the low overhead, he’s ready for the long haul. He assumed this year would start slowly and he’d build through next year.
Downtown has to grow beyond the few populated areas. We don’t have a ton of space in the center city, so we need to use it all. We need people like Jason who will take a calculated chance on an atypical part of town to open a business. Pay him a visit. He’s located right next to Sam’s Cafe on Locust Street and he’s open from 11:00 – 7:00 everyday except Sunday on which he is closed. Check him out during the day if you work downtown. Find him after work or on a Saturday. Look up his cart at the Market Square Farmers’ Market. You’ll be glad you did. I plan to take a certain Urban Toddler there, soon.