The reports came in late last week that Keener Lighting located at the corner of Broadway and Jackson Avenue for the last 41 years plans to go out of business. I’d been sitting on the photographs you see in this post since last summer, waiting on the right time to bring them out. It appears to be now or never.
I’ve not seen a reason given for the closure, just that much of the inventory is being sold to another company who will also take three of the employees from Keener. You might note that you rarely saw customers there or that the business wasn’t in the right spot for foot traffic. I’d point out that, according to the woman I spoke with last summer, foot traffic or single sales wasn’t their primary business. Larger scale jobs, such as supplying the lighting for new construction represented the sustaining cash-flow.
I’d thought I might highlight it as one of the businesses downtown that no one seems to notice. During the span of years it covered, it has seen the decline of the center city, though the world’s fair and several attempts at downtown resuscitation. It’s ironic that its closure comes with the current downtown resurgence.
The owner noted in the article linked about that he has already had inquiries about the building, which he will sell sometime after it is empty of the business. The building is nearly one hundred years old and has seen a number of business harbored within its walls. The owner thinks the first was a Firestone business. He’s hopeful someone will take the building and utilize it well.
The new business is the opening of a second location for Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House. It will take over the now-vacant, smaller building, beside The Standard. I first wrote about that building in a post about the opening of the standard. It was slated to become a “destination” restaurant and this seems, to me, to fit the bill. While we technically have barbecue downtown, it’s a long way from Calhoun’s on the River to Jackson Avenue. They are also each going for a different vibe entirely.
One of the features of the current location of Sweet P’s is a musical component including “Even Thursday’s Get the Blues,” a blues-focused musical series on the Thursdays of each month which fall on even-numbered days. My friend Michael Gill of Bluegill Productions books the series and, as is always the case when he has a hand in the business, I’m sure it is a quality event. Would it be possible that the new location will feature the first blues-oriented musical venture? There is certainly an opening for that and if there’s not enough space inside the building, there is space behind it and the owners stated they intend to utilize that space. Here’s hoping.
So, what is the net for downtown from these two changes? Is it a draw because we win one and lose one? Is it a loss because we lost a unique retail establishment in exchange for yet another restaurant?
Allow me to suggest that perhaps this is a win in several ways. Much has been said about the reawakening of this end of Jackson, yet, the businesses that have located here are not foot-traffic dependent and don’t generate much in the way of making the western blocks of Jackson a very lively place. This has the potential of doing just that. Additionally, while I don’t like to lose unique retail downtown, that particular building represents a great opportunity for getting our urban plans right – retail on the ground floor and residences above.
If residences were added on the top two floors of this building, they would join their neighbors across the street in the Southeastern Glass Building to begin transforming this intersection into a dynamic multi-use neighborhood. With that redevelopment, we might see more interest in making something permanent on the space where the BP once operated across from each of them.
And they’d be just down the street from Sweet P’s and, hopefully, between them all would be a re-developed McClung Warehouse site. If all that is done correctly, we could see another outcropping of the growth other parts of the downtown area has experienced. In the end, it is possible, the loss of Keener Lighting could lead to a new energy in the entire area.
So, there are the various ways I see to look at the situation. What do you think? Did we win, lose or draw? Of course, only time will tell, but it’s interesting to speculate in the interim.