Knoxville Graphic House Leaves Market Square/Rococo Closes

Rococo/Knoxville Graphic House, 2 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2015

Rococo/Knoxville Graphic House, 2 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2015

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.

Courtney Garrison, Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

Courtney Garrison, Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

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.

Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

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.

Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

Knoxville Graphic House, 2017 Ailor Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

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.

So, like the Knoxville Graphic House Facebook page, check out their website for examples of their work and watch for an open house to launch the new location very soon.



  1. It’s amazing how businesses sometimes take off in an unexpected direction.

    That corner storefront on the square shouldn’t stay empty long. Maybe the highest foot traffic location downtown?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Yes, it’s really all a good thing. As for that spot, it’s probably the best retail location in downtown.

  2. No High Speed internet in 2015?????? Should be of first priority! Stat! Period!!!

    • I wonder if maybe those Market Square buildings aren’t wired for Comcast or have bad infrastructure, limiting speeds. I know Comcast does offer 100-150 mbit in most areas, which is pretty fast. The business I work for elsewhere in Knoxville has 100mbit Comcast and it’s fine. Not to mention I have 75mbps at home in downtown. AT&T doesn’t offer anything over 45mbps via their Uverse service.

  3. Why is the internet not up to par downtown? Is it because the infrastructure is old and hasn’t been upgraded? I have always thought it would be nice for Knoxville to offer free WIFI in the downtown core, maybe just Market Square, but maybe it’s not feasible with the current infrastructure.

    • I was thinking the same thing. I know Comcast does offer 100+ mbit speeds but maybe the wiring and the cable taps in those buildings are too old to reasonably support such speeds. I live downtown and my building supports 75mbps residential cable just fine. So it’s not like none of downtown is wired for high speed cable.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Free wifi would be easy, from what I understand and it baffles me that there isn’t at least free wifi on the Square. The infrastructure is the culprit and unlike Chattanooga, our public utility doesn’t seem to be interested in stepping in. Comcast isn’t interested since they’ve got what they want. I fear we are being left behind in a way that matters.

  4. Is this the time for a discussion of the mix of retail offerings downtown?

    Of course, it’s a free market and someone can open whatever kind of business they want, finances allowing. However, two demographic things are happening. The ratio of downtown residents and workers to visitor/tourists is shifting AND the type of visitor is changing. Yes, that location is naturally visitor oriented. But it seems that the downtown souvenir/tchotchke market is already pretty saturated. I’d love to see something different.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I’d love to see something that is more of a service to downtown residents, as well, but I suspect that location will be oriented to the weekenders and others who come downtown. We are slowly gaining those other services – like the pharmacy that opened last month and the walk-in clinic that will open soon.

  5. Paul Sponcia says

    This is a recurring problem in downtown. We didn’t move our business downtown, instead to Emory Place, in part because of that issue. On the fringes you can get up to Gigabit fiber speeds, whereas downtown good luck getting cable internet service.

    We need changes and the ATT’s, Comcast’s and WOW’s of the world aren’t going to do it because the costs versus the density simple don’t work financially and they are built to make money not economic development. It’s going to take some incentives from the city to help hedge their bets. Bandwidth is the highway and airports of today and the future.

  6. I work in Market Square, and second the internet issues. Not only is it slow, but Comcast Business is terrible. *At least* once a month, usually 2 or 3 times lately, the Internet will go out for hours on end. That means I have no phones, no internet, and my credit card machines won’t work. We can do it all manually, but it really slows down the line. On a busy Saturday, it’s the last thing you need, especially because too long of a wait can lose the interest of the customer.

    • That really sucks, honestly. The business I work for is closer to Ftn City and we almost NEVER have issues with Comcast business. Not that it’s perfect; we do have short 15-30 minute outages 1-2x a month, but nothing particularly business-impacting. Clearly, the infrastructure in/around Market Square is in dire need of a revamp and you’re right in saying that there’s no incentive for Comcast to invest in such. I live in JFG and according to Comcast I can get 2gbps fiber, yet they won’t offer it to any businesses yet, nor are they in a hurry to string new fiber elsewhere to enable more people to get it.

  7. I think it would be a great spot for a national chain, kind of like urban outfitters on the other corner to act as another anchor for market square. Although obviously not as large.

  8. Something like Trader Joes would do well there. It would appeal to both visitors and residents.

    • Chris Eaker says

      One aisle of TJ’s might fit in there.

      • H&m? Zara? Anything of that sort?

        • Unfortunately H&M and Zara are both generally fairly large places and that corner shop just isn’t spacious enough to do either store justice. I guess it could work with a VERY limited selection but I’m not sure it would do particularly well. Most H&M’s are at least the size of the Urban Outfitters downtown, if not larger.

          • Savannah’s Candy Kitchen could do big business in that corner location. They have a location in Nashville that draws big crowds.


            Not the greatest thing for downtown residents unless you have a serious sweet tooth, but tourists and suburbanites in town for the night would keep it busy.

  9. I seem to remember the rehab of Market Square by Kinsey Probasco was months behind schedule due to the utilty infrastructure build out. I kind of thought that project would have paved the way for good Internet connections. Chattanooga’s equivalent off KUB was farsighted in realizing the need for good Internet and got into the business early.

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