Flow: A Brew Parlor Closes on Main Street

Owner Brad Peer at Flow: A Brew Parlor, 603 W. Main Street, Medical Arts Bldg., November 2014

Owner Brad Peer at Flow: A Brew Parlor, 603 W. Main Street, Medical Arts Bldg., November 2014

When it opened in December of 2014, I joined Brad Peer, owner, in having high hopes for the shop. Situated on Main Street, Flow: A Brew Parlor sits far from other retail and culinary options. I reasoned that to be an advantage – less competition. Further, I felt Brad had several natural sources of support. I imagined significant support from the workers on Main Street. Coming in to the office? Why not pick up a good cup of coffee first? Leaving the office at the end of a day, why not have a beer, first? Lunch options? This is the only one on Main.

Additionally, the Medical Arts Building is home to 49 different households. I could imagine myself as a resident riding the elevator downstairs for a cup of coffee in the morning. I assumed it would be a place residents relaxed over beer or coffee in the evening – sort an informal community room with high quality coffee and beer.

None of this materialized to the degree necessary to cover the lease, pay employees, operate the business and pay taxes. After fighting it for about a year-and-a-half, Brad felt he could no longer justify the losses, so he closed the doors as of last Friday for the final time. He’s now in Annapolis, Maryland, working for DiMillo’s Yacht Company selling new and brokerage boats. It’s an industry he was in before opening Flow.

Asked what he thought most difficult about the venture, Brad told me the, “location was difficult.” He seemed to indicate that in time it may have worked, but he wasn’t capitalized enough to wait. He needed it to turn a profit more quickly than was possible. He picked the location deliberately to be away from Old City Java because he didn’t want to compete with them and thought the variables I mentioned above would come through, but they didn’t to a degree large enough to sustain the business.

Jubal, Flow, Knoxville, February 2016

Jubal, Flow, Knoxville, February 2016

He thought, for example, the “coffee crowd would be automatic.” Instead, he said, his impression is that the workers on Main Street bring their coffee into the city in the morning after having brewed it at home or purchased it near home. Others he thinks simply have chosen to drink the free or cheap coffee in their offices. He also said they are not coming in after work and, while some residents have supported the business, it hasn’t been in the numbers he’d hoped. He concluded that part of downtown isn’t ready for what he offered.

Thinking further, he said, “Knoxville has a lot of momentum, but downtown seems pretty saturated with entertainment options until there are more people who live downtown.” While he said he is, “happy to have been a part of the downtown scene,” he just thinks, in the end, the limited downtown population is spread too thin. We discussed the old quandary of needing population to open a business and the population wanting available businesses before they move in.

Still, he is proud of the small community he helped foster. He says he met a lot of people and formed relationships and watched other relationships grow. He’s happy to have been able to give some exposure to others such as Jubal and Blond Bones and is “proud to have been a part of their lives.”

He’s also appreciative to a number of people and groups of people whose support kept the business going as long as it lasted. He mentioned Alliance Brewery, Bearden Beer Market, the Knoxville Brewer’s Association and Nourish Knoxville as “key supporters.” He particularly wanted to thank Shaun Parrish (of Old City Java) who he calls, “a true friend and a real guy.”

So, that leaves us with another vacancy in the Medical Arts Building. One retail space had not been filled since the renovations. Maybe some of the lessons learned above will help the next business succeed. It’s one of the most populated spots downtown during the day and one of the least at night, so that will impact any business there. There is a natural customer base that hasn’t yet been tapped.

Flow, Knoxville, July 2015

Flow, Knoxville, July 2015

In a bigger sense, what this means is that we still struggle to expand our retail footprint. It also means that the deserted nature of that end of downtown after business hours continues to be an issue, as was pointed out by the Urban Land Institute. Until we find a way to activate that end of downtown after 5:00 PM, evening businesses will likely continue to struggle.

It also underscores the fact that just because we get cool things downtown, doesn’t mean we get to keep them. A certain level of support is required by those of us who live downtown. While we get bursts of visitors for various reasons at different times, those of us who are downtown daily (and nightly) are the ones who have to provide the consistent support needed to sustain downtown businesses. Here’s hoping we can get another business in that spot and begin to make Main Street the vibrant place its name implies. And here’s wishing Brad the best as he moves on.

I reached out to Michael Grace who told me he and his brother Tom (865-599-5074) would be happy to hear from someone who has an idea they might like to try in the space. As you can see from the photographs, it has a beauty and charm and the right concept and execution would likely be a success in the spot. Also, if you are interested in an apartment in that building, which has essentially been full from the beginning, they are finishing out a new unit which will be available in late June or early July.

Comments

  1. I will never wish a person or business ill, but from reading the comments here, this seems to be a self inflicted wound. I would comment that from what I know of the area, the larger concentration of “businessing types” are located in areas/buildings with self contained garages. The rest of downtown has other options that are between their vehicles and their desks, and that can evidently bother to open at the unreasonable hours that most of us go to work. I work on the 500 block of Gay Street, and would have to pass or avoid at least 3 other independent coffee shops, as well as one Starbucks, to get to Flow. If, even once, I had to risk passing them to find a locked door…

  2. I was disappointed other hot beverages weren’t served at Flow. Half of the seating was problematic for people with spine/hip injuries. When I worked at the Medical Arts Bldg., I bought ice cream all of the time in the little store that used to occupy that space.

  3. Brian Scott Pittman says:

    I loved the space. It was thoughtful and always clean, nice open corner so you could sip your coffee and spy on everyone walking by. I worked and live nearby and Brad was always cool and low key. Loved the wall color and that coffee machine was bad-ass. Though I loved the rotating art I felt it most complete and appropriate when Cynthia Markert’s older work was displayed. It fit so perfectly I wanted it to stay. I must admit the unpredictable hours had me there often facing a closed store and that I thought a coffee spot needed tables. Then boom, we had tables and loved drawing there and meeting friends to talk. That’s a responsive owner that I for one appreciated and I’m going to miss them and Brad. My mocha was spot on perfect every….single….time. Good luck to Brad and to whomever takes a chance there again. I’ll do what I can to again support that great corner.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with earlier comments regarding sporadic openness. I work a block over and was thrilled when they opened- I gave them several tries before I stopped. From being unexpectedly closed to not having coffee brewed at 830 in the morning to being out of half and half and lids, and I could go on- it felt like they didn’t even try so I am surprised to hear the reasons given by Brad. I love KBrew but would also frequent a dependable cafe if it were to take that space.

  5. They were So nice.

  6. So sad. LOVED IT. close to Maplehurst, last shot caffeine before home.

  7. Danielle says:

    I am so sad to lose this place downtown. I often walked over from across downtown or came downtown to visit for the great coffee and people. Brad did a wonderful job of encouraging and hosting local music, theatre, and art and that void will be especially felt. Brad and Flow will be missed.

  8. +1 on the erratic hours. If I go somewhere during their listed hours and they aren’t open – and there isn’t a reason for it posted on the door – that place immediately falls off my radar.

    Closing at 8 (assuming they opened that day) was another head-scratcher. Flow was in the ground floor of a high-density residential building full of mostly young urban types. That’s a built-in clientele of people who like to hang out & drink beer in the evening. The EVENING.
    They did do a nice job with the space. It’s ready to roll for someone who wants to take another stab at it.

  9. Though I am very sad to see them close, I will make some observations about the fact that the closing may not be *entirely* because of the location and lack of after-hour customers. I was very excited to see them open – despite honestly finding the name a bit strange. On my first two occasions I saw online that they were open, ‘hiked’ over there from Worlds Fair Park (on one occasion) and Market Square (on another) and despite their hours on the website, they were not open. That was aggravating, but I gave them another chance – and on that occasion though the beer was great, it was uncomfortably quiet and dead inside. And then the friends I was with observed the owner making out with one of the baristas – which we found unprofessional.

    All that to say, I wish the owner nothing but the best and applaud him for taking a chance on an uncharted part of town for storefront businesses. I think the market will continue to change in that area (hopefully) once the Supreme Court site is developed.

  10. Another Downtown Worker says:

    I have to echo the fact that on too many occasions, I tried to support this business by stopping in on the way to my office downtown and they were either a) not open yet, b) there was no coffee and/or c) there was no food. I do think all of the other factors mentioned (pedestrian density, etc.) probably played into this closure, but I for one would’ve gone out of my way to support this business at other times of day if it had been open as advertised during the morning rush hour. It’s a beautiful space and I hope to see it materialize into a successful business for someone. I’ve worked on this end of downtown for many years and aside from the Bistro, there’s nothing much going for lunch (a few things in First TN Plaza) or happy hour. Many of my colleagues mention how that space could be a great opportunity for someone.

  11. Art Wagner says:

    The old urban catch-22 hits again–without pedestrian density, retail growth is difficult–but without retail growth, there is no pedestrian density. In other words, Knoxville’s biggest urban problem, empty surface spaces, continue to do us in. The parking lot on Church, the lot owned by Home Federal on Clinch and Walnut, and the block-sized old state courthouse site–all could be pedestrian magnets with residential, commercial, and retail, but instead are pedestrian discouragements. Until infill development occurs on these and other energy-killing empty spaces downtown, businesses like Flow will seem like remote outposts to the majority of visitors, workers, and residents downtown.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I could not agree more.

    • Art is exactly right. While many have experienced the problems other posters on this story have mentioned, the root cause is the lack of a sustainable city design. Main Street is the heart of the institutional district with very little residential life. OCJ is in the heart of the residential sector of Knoxville. I love Flow and OCJ, but there is a very big difference in opportunity. As they say: Location, location, location.

    • In thinking about the Home Federal site and its current use for bank parking, is Knoxville’s geology such that you can’t dig down and have a floor or two of sub-level parking? You see multiple levels of below ground parking in places like downtown Nashville. That would allow both development and parking and all you would need is an owner willing to let the site go to a better use.

  12. We were hopeful when we lived in CityView that we would get a great coffee shop that we could easily walk to- instead of driving over to Old City Java, who we love. My fiancé went once for an iced coffee and they poured it from a cold brew for more money than a cold brew costs at OCJ. I tried to go once but they were closed as mentioned above. We spend as much money downtown shopping local as we can but to get that support you have to bring quality- not just expect support because you are locally owned. That’s something a few other locally owned businesses could take to heart.

    • Allen McBride says:

      It may be that someone with a finer palate than me could find fault with their quality, but even if that’s true it doesn’t mean they didn’t take quality seriously or that they expected support without quality. I thought they took the quality of their coffee pretty seriously.

      • It’s less a question of palate than simple economics and good service. The same product was being offered at a higher price and instead of making up for it with better customer service, it was worse. Simply being open at your published hours is a start. It seems others posting feel the same way.

        • Their coffee was the best you can buy: Counter Culture. The same offered only elsewhere in Kville at OJC. CC is also more expensive. Just a fact. There were many loyal customers (and friends of Flow). But, I think it is worth pointing out that the problems noted on this site are real. However, what is their cause? Insufficient first year traffic -> revenue below expectations -> smaller staff, inconsistent product availability due to lower revenue, reduced hours -> even less traffic… The vicious spiral is a common one is small businesses like this. The root cause is that not enough folks in the surrounding businesses, or even in the MAB, elected to spend their coffee dollars at Flow, even initially. No business can operate in the red indefinitely. By the way, I believe KBrew cut back their hours after opening less than two blocks away.

          • With all due respect, it doesn’t matter how good your coffee is if you’re not open (or don’t have it brewed) when people want to buy it.

            KBrew may have cut back their hours, but I bet they keep those hours reliably.

            My office is between two sandwich shops. I like the food at both places. The prices are comparable. One is inconsistent and the other is solid. Guess which one I buy sandwiches from, even though it’s a longer walk to get there.

          • From month one those issues were already being seen. I attributed them to growing pains, but they never improved and, in fact, got worse.

  13. A shame they failed, but no city has retail storefronts everywhere. It’s simply too much to support. So retailers and restaurants cluster and other blocks are quieter with offices or residences at street level. It’s not really a problem, just the way things are.

  14. Downtown Worker says:

    This is a shame. I loved going to Flow when it was open but found their hours to be very sporadic. For instance, in the photo shown above, their hours on their window were Mon-Fri 7:30-8:00. This is also what they advertised on Yelp and their own website. However, they were never open on Mondays, and often didn’t open until 9:30 or 10:00 on other weekdays. Just recently they advertised their hours as 12-6, still not open on Monday. It never made sense to me why a coffee shop would not want to be open in early hours to attract local employees downtown. After walking to Flow many times in the morning and finding them closed, I just ended up switching to the new K Brew location nearby which has more reliable hours.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I think those are reasonable observations. I found myself at the front door with no one inside on several occasions.

    • Precisely. I’m walking into my office at 8am, I’m not leaving the office an hour and a half later to get a cup of coffee. I work in the BoA building across the street.

  15. Also – there is another weekday lunch option on Main. Inside the City County Building is a cafe/grill that is packed each day with people doing business/court inside.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      That I didn’t realize. While that means there was another option at lunch, for many of the office workers, I would not call that a business on Main Street, though technically, I suppose, it is.

  16. I work on Main Street & there’s another obvious explanation – K Brew is right around the corner.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I hope K Brew is smashingly successful, but Flow did not go out of business because of their presence. The business was falling well short of what Brad felt he needed long before K Brew came into the federal building.

      • My personal experience is that I went to flow for afternoon coffee until K-Brew opened.

      • Personally, I felt that Flow didn’t provide what I wanted out of a corner shop. Their lunch options were subpar for the area. The chili (which they advertised as one of their focuses) was absolutely abysmal. I did not partake in any food after trying their chili. The coffee was good though.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.