The 100 block of Gay Street has certainly seen its ups and downs. The construction that seemed interminable served to undermine a few fragile businesses. Several others have left since. The promise of the beautifully redone block seemed to be just out of reach – until now. It seems in recent months momentum is once again on the side of what I’ve called the most beautiful block in the city.
The most recent restaurants to open there, Shuck, Cru Bistro and Knox Mason seem like solid ventures which immediately found their clientele. Nouveau Classics should finally be settled into their new home at the opposite end of the block from their original destination by the end of this month. Patricia Nash has established a nice presence. New residents will soon occupy the Armature while Three Feathers is already occupied.
Adding to the new momentum is Style of Civilization at 133 S. Gay Street. The focal point of the business is shoes, though there are accessories such as purses, jewelry and scarves. With a soft opening just this past Friday, stocking the store is incomplete, with about half the eventual inventory in place. Sales are off to a good start and early response has been positive. First Friday last week offered good initial exposure.
The price point has been given a great amount of thought and careful selection of the shoes to be carried contributes to a very nice, but not price-prohibitive collection. The idea is to provide elegance that “you don’t have to regret the next morning.” All the shoes are chic and beautiful, but I honestly couldn’t tell the lower priced shoes from the upper end. The round table pictured above has the most and the least expensive shoes in the store side-by-side. Can you tell which is which? One pair costs roughly $52 while the other costs $175.
As I’ve said many times, however, the best businesses aren’t really about the business, they are about the people behind them. Nina Phalen greeted me warmly as I entered and readily engaged in conversation about the city and her hopes and plans. If the business is to succeed, it will rest on her relationship with her customers, and I’m thinking that is going to be a real asset for her. A beautiful and charming young woman, she becomes animated when discussing her plans for the store and her love of an urban environment.
She and her husband moved to Knoxville from Philadelphia and both now work downtown while living a short commute away in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood. While the people of Philadelphia were friendly, she pointed out that Knoxvillians seem to go far past what she expected. She mentioned specifically the orientation to the city provided by David Dewhirst and the immense help provided by Michelle Hummel of CBID, but also a downtown neighbor.
I hope you will go by and introduce yourself to Nina and tell her you read about the business here. Buy some shoes, “like” them on Facebook and generally let her know we’re happy to have her in Knoxville. The official grand opening is this Friday at which point she plans to provide liquor, so watch out or you may find yourself with a hangover the next day and five pair of shoes lying about the house. Just remember what she said, “no guilt.”
A final, unfortunate word on the business front: Le Parigo which had recently become i cafe appears to have completely closed its doors on Clinch Avenue. Only a few weeks ago, when the i Cafe idea was launched, I was assured the business would continue. Obviously, something didn’t go well. I was unable to get a response to an e-mail inquiry as to precisely what happened. I hate to see them go, though my wife and I only ate there once given the expense. I’d hoped the shift might allow them to survive.