Just one month shy of the fifth anniversary of its opening, Aisle nine closed its doors for the final time yesterday. Last Friday current owner Kara Haas informed the staff that the store was closing. One of the first stores to offer basic food to downtown and the Old City, the store opened in 2010 with owner Jon Haas whose original intentions were to use the profits from the grocery store to develop the upper floors. It wasn’t to be, as Mr. Haas was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died just over a year ago at age 39. An amazing person, he left quite a legacy, documented in an excellent article by Mike Gibson in Metro Pulse.
The store continued operation under the management, most recently, of Lee Yarnell. She told me managing the store was her “dream job.” The store employed Lee, three part-time employees and several others who subbed. She said she will miss them and the community that supported the store. Her degree is in merchandising and design and she’d hoped to increase the presence of local food products as well as local art for sale.
As the store has operated, drinks were a large portion of their business and that included beer. Unfortunately, due to a paperwork oversight, the store saw its beer license suspended just before Christmas and all beer sales were stopped. To recover the license required starting from scratch with the health department, codes, and presenting a new application before the beer board. It may have been the final straw.
Ms. Yarnell said she will miss the spirit with which the community, including residents, workers and even area homeless persons connected at the store. It was, she pointed out, a rare spot where you might get a $2.50 craft beer and enjoy a fresh sandwich. She spoke fondly of a couple from Amsterdam that came into the store recently, the family that brought their children in to take refuge from the craziness at the Christmas Parade and the great crowds on First Friday.
There is another collateral impact in that Matt Miller, owner of Good Golly Tamale used the kitchen not only to prepare food for the store, but also to prepare all the tamales we’ve enjoyed from his cart all about town. The building is slated to be sold, but he hopes to be able to remain in the kitchen for the near future. He told me, “I’m hoping to stay put a while longer, but I’ll be looking for a kitchen in order to continue the business from another location. He said he appreciates the support Knoxville has shown him and he’ll post updates to Facebook. If you have a kitchen location you think might work for him, you can contact him via that page (linked above).
In many respects Jon Haas appears to have been a person ahead of his time. Lee speculated the same could be said about opening a grocery store downtown in 2010. His touches remain, from the shelving now for sale which he built by hand to the wood for the front of the mezzanine which he harvested from the Pickle Mansion, a home he’d hoped to restore. Eventually another grocery concept will emerge on that end of downtown, but Wednesday marked the end of the first attempt.