It didn’t take long, which is in itself an indication that there is no need to despair about downtown when a few businesses close. Orange Leaf Yogurt closed at the end of 2014 due to problems which had nothing to do with Market Square, downtown or even Knoxville. Still, coming with all the other closures, it felt like a blow. What happened next is an interesting part of the story.
Two years ago when 36 Market Square was ready to accept tenants, it was offered for lease and owner Ken Mills had to pursue businesses, attempting to convince them it would be a good location. Some remained unconvinced. After some difficulty, he inked an agreement with Orange Leaf. Last month, when faced with starting the process over, he did nothing. He didn’t have to. Word spread nationally and he told me he was contacted by, “Businesses from all over the southeast” and several from other parts of the country, including “as far away as California.” Ultimately four different groups signed letters of intent and he was able to choose the best fit for Market Square and downtown. He really wanted the new business to be local.
Scott West talked to Ken and learned of the great interest and knew that he wanted to do something there himself. It’s not the best timing for the West family: They are working to open the brewery in Scruffy City Hall, as well as the “Crystal Cave in the Clouds.” They are working on their house and have completely re-worked Uncorked. That’s not to mention their routine operation of several family-owned businesses. It’s not as if they find themselves searching for something to do. A handshake later and, ready or not, a new adventure set sail.
The concept – or concepts – is in the early stages of development. The business will likely be a hybrid of businesses which should augment some that are present and add some elements which are currently missing downtown. Scott isn’t ready to give the name of the business, just yet. When asked, he said, “Let’s just say it’s another Scruffy concept.”
As for what will happen there, he does have some ideas, but they are fluid and he said he would be interested in hearing (via comment below) any ideas my readers might have. And the store will be eclectic enough that he might be able incorporate another piece or two.
One part of the concept will be as a sort of welcoming point or gateway onto the square. He noted that in 1992 with the help of Jack Neely’s writings and conversations with him, Scott developed brochures to help promote downtown attractions. One he remembered was called, “Lost Tales of the Old City,” which was a walking tour brochure that he and Bernadette paid to print. He’d like to see historic walking tours that start and end on Market Square. He’s not thinking, “vanilla or boring – they’re all about sex, crimes, murders and colorful scandals that visitors and locals like to hear and tell.” Sounds pretty scruffy. He noted that he’s already discovered the downtown spot that used to be the headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan (I’ll let him do the great reveal.), which is an example of a piece of history not likely to be touted by the Chamber.
He’d like to see walking tours departing from the site and returning there. He’d also like to see rickshaws, Knox Brew Tours, the pedal vehicle for beer parties and carriage rides depart on a regular basis. In other words, a hub of downtown activity at that end of the square. He told me something I did not realize: “We had horse and carriage rides every weekend in the early 90’s downtown – Don Ault used to give them.” I had no idea they’d ever been so regular. We both agreed downtown is probably ready to support them at least every weekend at this point.
That’s just a part of the introduction to the square that visitors will find at 36. He hopes to have three televisions mounted on the wall with one showing regular programming. He hopes Visit Knoxville will provide one with their channel promoting everything Knoxville. The third will carry a concept currently in development by PlainviewTV, the same company that developed Visit Knoxville Television. I hope to have more in this space on that company, soon. It will be called Scruffy City Television.
But how does any of that make money? It doesn’t. That’s why the core business will be a cafe and a very limited gourmet market. As we talked, he said it really may be more of a Cafe, but he’s picturing some of the following: Make your own gourmet cup of coffee in one section, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Odwalla juices and bars, fresh wraps and soups from Knoxville Uncorked, a newspaper/magazine stand with New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Beer will be available – perhaps Scruffy City Beer produced two doors down. A patio will line both the front and Wall Avenue side of the building for coffee, lunch and beer at the end of the day.
It’s part convenience store – but high end and not really. It’s part cafe, for sure, but more. it will have some Keep Knoxville Scruffy merchandise. It sounds pretty large-city to me and I think it will be a great addition to the square. Scott’s father and mother owned a convenience store and deli years ago and Scott worked in markets and deli’s for a decade, so each of them have some experience with portions of the concept.
He wants to be a good neighbor and he pointed out that the building is filled with residents and he wants them to know there will be no “late live music or pumpin’ bass.” The establishment will be non-smoking. I’m picturing mostly a New York magazine stand merged with a deli with a small, gourmet market piece added. But he re-iterated that they are open to shaping the concept further if they hear a good suggestion, “tell your readers to let it rip and we’ll see what this morphs into.”
He said he imagines having it open by April 1 for festival season, though he added, “Bernadette would translate that, ‘June 1.'” I’ll split the difference and say “sometime this spring.” Look for it on the square when the weather gets warm and leave your suggestions below.