For the first three years I lived in downtown Knoxville, the strip of (potential) shops on the 400 block of Union Avenue consisted of nothing more than one business and a long strip of dark windows looking into a dirt floor. I often walked past the end of the Market Square Garage and gave little thought to the empty spaces there, accepting the gaps in activity along our streets as part of the reality of the city.
Fortunately, David Dewhirst and others didn’t accept this reality. Having already successfully rehabilitated the 500 block of the same street with his work in the Daylight Building, he purchased the street-level portion of this empty section of Union Avenue and began the work that would connect his Daylight Building and its nascent businesses with the newly renovated Hotel Oliver and, ultimately, to Market Square.
After preparing the spaces for tenants and opening the first three of four, it is big news that the last of these spaces have been filled. The final spot in the store-front spaces went to an unlikely business, at least in my mind for an urban area: a business selling property outside the city. It’s an interesting idea when you consider that the movement in our area is into the city, rather than the other way around.
I stopped in on Friday night to an impossibly packed grand opening. With free food and wine, that’s not a hard feat to accomplish, so I returned to unravel the thinking behind such a move. I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet the owner, Samuel Pinner, but I spoke to the young women working the desk and got a pretty good idea of what will be offered and why the move downtown. Both are interesting.
The offering won’t be quite as dramatic as I had thought: it’s likely there will not be an agent present, but rather the person working the office will gather information from interested customers who will later be contacted by an agent. Still, the plan is to have actual listings displayed in the windows so that anyone passing by might have their eye caught by a property in which they would be interested.
As to the question of why the move downtown, this is what I found interesting: It’s because of the foot traffic. They already have an office in west Knoxville, but knew this one would be more visible. Would anyone have imagined a business moving into the city for that reason ten or fifteen years ago? If we’ve gotten to the point that business looking for exposure to people are thinking of downtown, we may just have turned a corner.
So, if you are a downtown or suburban resident interested in having property outside the city, you might want to drop in and see what they have available. I can see downtown residents who would want a place to get away from the city and, in fact, I know several who have a city home and a mountain home. I can also imagine people visiting our area who like Knoxville enough to be interested in living in the area, but prefer to live outside the city.
Whether this particular business interests you, something very good happened in the city this week as another block that was once largely devoid of life becomes yet another vibrant area of our downtown. Taken together, the two blocks of Union Avenue, as they have re-developed, have added tremendously to the variety of retail establishments present in the city. The Daylight Building not only offers residences, but a stationary design studio (The Happy Envelope), a repeat clothing boutique (Reruns), a book store (Union Avenue Books), a grocery store (Just Ripe) and a photography studio (John Black Photography). Now the New Union Shops have added an olive oil and vinegar store (The Tree and Vine), a clothing store (Nothing Too Fancy), a real estate store front and a craft beer pub (The Casual Pint).
If downtown is able to continue attracting such an amazing variety of businesses in future developments, the city should be on secure footing as it moves forward. These are the businesses which make life in the city more livable and which will, in turn, bring more people downtown. Of course, more people downtown makes the center city a more appealing place for new businesses and so the momentum continues.