A few weeks ago I walked into Just Ripe, which readers of this blog know I love, to buy a few groceries. I don’t know the names of everyone who works there, but I know the faces and a good many names. I noticed a new face behind the counter and introduced myself to the young lady. She told me her name was Jessica and she’d moved here from Charlotte.
This caught my attention, because I think of Charlotte as having it all going on. It’s the fastest growing city in the south and I didn’t imagine anyone was currently choosing to move away, so I asked, “why leave Charlotte?” She said it was great for young professionals and others in the finance industry, but it seemed to be missing something, for her, it was missing, “. . . mountains and . . . land to grow food.” Also, “Charlotte is growing rapidly, but quite decentralized and transient; I wanted a city with centralized and thriving local art, music, food and education, where I could work serving the community doing things I love and . . . growing and serving food in the local food chain, teaching and writing, seeing live music and art.” So she started looking.
She felt she would likely move to Asheville, so she visited the city. There, she said, “I didn’t really meet any folks in Asheville. I enjoyed great food and mountains, but didn’t connect with locals, which was part of the problem. I knocked on lots of doors and could not find work or make connections.”
In the meantime, she visited Knoxville. Initially, the music drew her here. She often streamed WDVX and her favorite band was Knoxville’s own Everybodyfields. She came for one of their shows in 2011. She returned in the spring for the Market Square Farmer’s Market, “ate at Just Ripe, sat around a campfire picking tunes out in the rolling hills of Strawberry Plains,” volunteered at Beardsley Farms and she was convinced. After working on a small east Tennessee farm, she moved to Knoxville where she also tutors middle and high school students while working on her master’s degree in English through Middlebury College. She plans to settle locally on some farm land while working that, tutoring and writing. So, now she’s one of us and we’re happy to have her here.
A few days after that conversation I got an e-mail in response to a blog in which I noted that the first unit in the Elliot Building was sold last spring. It was from Larry and Peggy who are readers in Georgia and they pointed out that, as it turns out, they were the couple who bought that first unit, on which they hope to close and take possession in April.
Here’s what Peggy had to say about their Knoxville experience:
“It all started about a year and a half ago when we were looking for our future retirement community. We knew we wanted something different – an urban lifestyle – and that we wanted to live in a city with a university and small (ie., friendly) enough to keep from feeling alienated. We had narrowed our search to Chattanooga and Asheville.
“Once, while traveling between the two cities, we stopped on a whim in Knoxville. Neither of us had visited Knoxville in decades and in all honesty we didn’t expect to find much of interest. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and stayed the night so that we could tour the
downtown and see a few condos on Monday. We were impressed from the start. The downtown was vibrant (even on a Sunday) and it was clear from watching folks interact that most lived in the city. That evening we got some unsolicited and very convincing advice from a bartender and a patron — Knoxville, they told us, was a great place to live. It didn’t take us long to change our minds. We’re looking forward to retirement but we are especially looking forward to our move to the Elliott and all that Knoxville has to offer.”
So, I thought I’d pass these conversations on. We clearly are not as affluent as, nor exploding like Charlotte. We don’t have the hipster cool of Asheville and I’m not saying we are better than either place. I am saying Knoxville does have something going on. Whether it’s a combination of an urban culture with a small-town friendliness or a cool arts and music scene, something is happening here.
Something is drawing people in who have no prior connection to the city. It’s drawing younger and older people alike. This is a very special time to be in Knoxville, Tennessee. People who are outside looking in realize it. Those of us who have lived here for a long time need to work to see the city with fresh eyes and be happy that we live a great place at a special time in its history.