We’re going to look at the year that was from a couple of different angles. We’ll start with business openings and closings since that’s often a good measure of economic health. I’m going to restrict my examination to businesses which actually opened – not those that I wrote about and which haven’t opened as of the final day of the year. I’m also not looking at housing or other building rehabs and construction.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember that 2014 ended on a particularly sour note. Three businesses on Market Square closed at once and actually followed another downtown closing. The new year got off to a shaky start with the closing of the Peanut Shop and Shuck, though that was countered somewhat by the January opening of Waldorf Photographic Art on Main Street.
From that point on, the openings dominated the closures and the openings included a wide range of businesses. February saw the opening of an art studio (Zach Searcy Projects), a furniture store (Boxwood Brake) and a restaurant (Holly’s 135). We lost Aisle 9 in the Old City, but the ratio of 3:1 for the month and the diversity of the openings served as encouragement after the recent closings.
It is stunning when listed out that way, isn’t it? The voices saying downtown Knoxville will fail have largely been quieted, but this simple list really stands as a testament to the amazing explosion of this relatively small area. I count forty-two openings and nine closings. I may have missed a couple one way or the other and you might argue whether one or another should count and how, but the trend is overwhelming any way you slice it.
Equally as important as the volume of openings is the diversity of openings. If we are to be a vibrant downtown, and particularly if we want to have a sustainable, walkable residential downtown, we must have a diversity of businesses. Witness that of the forty-two openings listed only seven are restaurants and one is a bar – both of which readers sometimes express frustration at having in excess downtown. I count twenty-one different kinds of businesses including some that are very important to downtown growth like furniture stores, a pharmacy and alternative forms of entertainment.
As I said at the outset, this does not include the explosion of development of other kinds, including housing. Announcements seem to be made weekly about new projects. I’ve already written about businesses which will be opening early next year and there are others I’ll write about soon. Please support these great new businesses so they will be here next year. They need your help to survive. It’s truly an exciting time to live in and be a part of this special place.