2012 in Review: Downtown Business Losses

Bank East, Knoxville, March 2012
Bank East, Knoxville, March 2012

Time passes quickly in these heady days in downtown Knoxville. Some portions of the year seem to be nothing more than a blur of activity. Sprinkled among the music festivals, parades and annual events are business openings and closings. Many of my readers are keenly interested in that portion of activity in the city. Last year when I reviewed businesses lost in 2011, changed in 2011, and gained in 2011 followed by a summary post, a number of people seemed to appreciate it and it served to give me a perspective on the blur of a year that had just ended.

So, let’s do it again, shall we? I like to start with what we lost since that’s the worst news of the lot. Somehow this year’s list doesn’t seem as depressing as last year’s, though there are several on the list that really sting.

January started off the negative news for the year with the abrupt closure of Bank East. I’m not sure of the details, but when a bank closes it’s a bit unsettling.

Marble Slab, Knoxville, March 2012
Marble Slab, Knoxville, March 2012


Fortunately, that was the end of the negative business news until March. The month of March brought two announcements of closures. The first was Marble Slab which closed numerous locations in a company-wide reorganization. Knox Ivi, just across Market Square suddenly had financial problems surface and a hasty move to Cumberland Avenue accompanied the news. As I’ve noted, their financial model puzzled many people in the city.

April brought news that disappointed and surprised many people: Internationally known printers Yee Haw, founded in 1997 by partners Kevin Bradley and Julie Belcher and which had long inhabited a storefront at 413 S. Gay Street, closed their doors. The partnership had ended with Kevin announcing intentions of moving to California while Julie made plans to continue working locally. I think the closure stung more because it was a link to tougher times downtown that had survived to see the resurgence. It also represented a unique business which won’t likely be duplicated.

Harry's, 100 Block, Knoxville, July 2011
Harry’s, 100 Block, Knoxville, July 2011

May brought another disappointment to many downtowners: Harry’s closed. This place also felt like a link to the past in that it occupied the same location (131 S. Gay) as Harold’s Kosher Deli and the tradition continued with significant changes. The name was similar and co-owner Ben Becker, a customer at Harold’s as a child, continued to provide some kosher foods while maintaining a farm-to-table philosophy. Customers noted some problems, but it seemed like a place that should make it. This was really the first closure of the year simply caused by inadequate business.

June and July passed quietly for business losses, but in August, Julie Apple designs announced their closure, making two consecutive closures for the 100 block of Gay Street. This had nothing to do with poor business, but more to do with family. Julianne Applegate and husband Toby moved out of state for Toby (who many of us enjoyed at Downtown Wine) to take a teaching position at the college level.

September brought two closures. The first was Old City Entertainment, which had been Bliss Entertainment before a forced name change. The place never really caught on and seemed to have a bit of an identity issue. Meanwhile, the same month and back on the 100 block, Cafe 11 closed. Not only was this the third hit to the same block, it also took the only source of middle-eastern dining out of the downtown area, so it was a particular loss in that way. I also hated to lose Mustapha Moussa as a downtown presence.

Mr. Harb, 32 Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012
Mr. Harb, 32 Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

The loses shifted to Market Square to end the year. With the purchase of 32 Market Square by Scott and Bernadette West, Swagger which featured upscale athletic footwear closed. Harb Tailors occupied a portion of that address and they operated until the end of the year before closing. Just across the square, 31 Bistro which had previously been La Costa closed its doors in October, as well, ending a long-run for the restaurant at that location.

So eleven businesses closed including three restaurants, an ice cream store, a bar, a printer, a bank, a purse shop, a television station, a tailor and a footwear store. In a small downtown area striving for diversity of businesses, probably the worst loses are the printer, tailor and footwear store. We have many restaurants, bars and banks. Also encouraging is that only four of the eleven closed due to a lack of business.

While the list might sound dire to downtown supporters and the pace of nearly a business closing each month might sound alarming for the city’s future, there is much more to the picture and we’ll look at that next.

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