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.
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.
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.