This time of year often produces retail shifts – as we saw last year when several businesses closed or moved. As of December 1, we’ll see the a change on the square this year. It’s a good news story: Knoxville Graphic House, which has taken an increasing share of space from Rococo over the last several years is moving into a larger space in a building purchased by Courtney Garrison, owner of the business.
I met with Courtney at 2017 Ailor Avenue, just a few blocks off Western Avenue across I-40 from the heart of downtown. The two of us marveled a bit at the fact that nearly 3 1/2 years have passed since Rococo opened at 2 Market Square. A lot has happened both personally and professionally for Courtney. The business made way early for a parallel business at the same address, based on Courtney’s background as a graphic artist.
Knoxville Graphic House first took a closet space in the back of Rococo, but as the business grew, the allotted space grew and the boutique shrank. Eventually the counter moved forward and the business really became Knoxville Graphic House with a slice of a boutique up front. The merchandise shifted from regional artisans to printed shirts, onesies and other items produced by the design business.
Not only did Knoxville Graphic House catch local attention, it caught on nationally – and even internationally. The National Education Association placed an order, a Canadian company ordered and the business grew. More employees were added and more employees were needed. With that growth came the need for more space. Since the company is not dependent on walk-in traffic, a Market Square address seemed unnecessary and owning a building became appealing.
After a search, the right sized building was located on the fringe of downtown at the corner of Ailor and 21st. In extremely bad shape, with mold growing on the walls and plants growing inside, it seemed the perfect location, but has taken eight months to prepare. Builders have been frantically at work making way for the business which will move out of 2 Market Square by November 30. Beginning to take form, the new address will afford Knoxville Graphic House an additional 1200 square feet of needed space and Courtney already anticipates the day will not be far distant in which the company will grow beyond the new building.
The focus of the business is business and event branding. They do a direct to garment transfer process, yielding photographic quality, which requires production space now available on the second floor of the new building. They are also printing everything from business cards to book covers.
She loves the new spot and the area, feeling that, like so many of the fringe areas of downtown, it is growing rapidly. She is also excited to have taken what she called, “the ugliest building,” and turning it into something beautiful. It will be painted in short order and murals are planned for the outside. She’s also excited to have parking to offer customers and is hoping for a facade grant from the city, for lighting, if nothing else.
As for Rococo, she had a vision of bringing objects of art to the square, but felt demand was higher for souvenirs and for less expensive items. Given that her background is in graphic design, with a BA in design from the Savannah College of Art and Design and an MA in Fashion Design from the Palimoda Institute in Florence, Italy, the business shift makes sense. After having taught fashion design in Nashville, she continued to be asked by friends and acquaintances to do graphic design work. It grew. Eventually, the business required sales, production and design departments.
She’s pleased with the fact that they’ve been able to do some creative projects for local customers, like the coasters they developed for Central Flats and Taps that had the business’ logo on one side, but the battleship game on the other. She feels the business goes above and beyond what is expected of a graphic design company by offering what she calls a “hand-holding” or “concierge” service. Noting that many people know very little of design and are nervous about the process, she works with them to make the outcome “awesome.”
Elizabeth Eason Architecture is responsible for the plans, with personal attention from Emily Corgan. Emily graduated from UT in 2013 and Courtney pointed out that she enjoys the energy and fresh vision of recent graduates. That preference has led her to hire similar employees, of which she has seven, but will soon have nine. She has surrounded herself with a team that is both creative and driven. She works hard and she looks for others who do the same.
One final note of concern: She mentioned the fact that the slow internet connections on Market Square were an issue for her business. It’s a problem that downtown companies can’t get the high speed internet connections they need and I fear it will hurt us in the long-run. Cities all around us are gaining positive press for their high speed connections and I can’t help but wonder if it will hurt us eventually.