Two Established Businesses Leave Market Square – And It’s Good News for Gay Street

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

As downtown grows, finds its groove and generally learns how to be a modern city, it’s fun to focus on the big things: New construction, major buildings brought back to life and a booming downtown population. But there are smaller moves that signal changes reflecting our move in a healthy direction.

Scott Schimmel and Lisa Sorensen announce the move of both Bliss and Tori Mason from 24 and 29 Market Square respectively to a new location on Gay Street. Bliss opened at its current location in 2003, making it one of the oldest retail businesses currently operating on the square. Tori Mason opened just under a year ago and has enjoyed early success. The couple’s Bliss Home brand currently has locations in west Knoxville, Nashville and a soon-to-open location in Louisville, Kentucky.

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

The couple loves Market Square and has enjoyed their relationship with that special place in the city, but the story of the business is a story of needing more space. Two years ago the offices were moved to the Old City in order to give more space to merchandise. The Tori Mason store evolved out of a shoe selection that simply outgrew the space it occupied inside Bliss.

The new location will be in the original Miller’s Building at 445 South Gay Street, which is good news for the city. The business will assume the space currently held by Community Health Alliance, which is in the newest portion of the building. Built in 1935, it was the third expansion of the Miller’s Building and was constructed in a different style than it’s older namesakes.

The oldest portion of the building dates to 1905, with a second addition coming in 1911. Miller’s built the building – one of Knoxville’s tallest at the time and occupied it until the mid 1950’s when they moved to Henley Street in the current location of the University of Tennessee Conference Center, before moving to West Town Mall in 1972. The move  of Bliss and Tori Mason shoes to the building transforms the space from offices with little interaction with the street to a successful retail spot with a proven track record.

Post-1935 Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Pre-1930’s Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

While the current street-level design of the building blends the original section and the two additions, the original 1935 addition maintained a distinct look and had its own entrance, as can be seen in the historic photograph included. The lower facade will be altered to return an entrance to that portion of the building, to replace the smoked glass with transparent glass and to more closely mirror its original design.

In addition to activating another portion of Gay Street, the move also gives the business the space it has long needed. After investigating expansion at 24 Market Square and concluding it wasn’t possible, this move will satisfy the need for additional square footage.

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

Schematic for the front of Bliss, Miller’s Building, 445 South Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2017

The current location of Tori Mason has about 1,800 square feet and Bliss has about 2,800. The new location has about 8,000 square feet, allowing for a comparable amount of space for the shoes and an approximate 70% increase in space for the gifts and clothing from the current Bliss, leaving room for the company’s offices, which will be moved from the Old City. The approximate 4,600 square feet of retail on Market Square will become around 6,500 to 7,000 square feet on Gay Street.

The buildings all have different owners, with KUB, represented by Conversion Properties, owning the Miller’s Building. John Craig owns 29 Market Square, while Mahasti Vafaie and Scott Parton (also owners of Tomato Head) own 24 Market Square. It’s safe to assume those spaces will not be available for very long after they are vacated.

Lisa Sorensen and Scott Schimmel, Bliss, Bliss Home and Tori Mason, Knoxville, July 2016

Scott Schimmel told me, “We see it as a move forward, though we still love Market Square. Gay Street has continued to change and grow over the years and we are excited to have a business there.” Noting that it once was the center of downtown’s commerce, he said they, “hope to help continue the path back to that.”

Both Tori Mason and Bliss will remain open at their current locations until the new space is vacated and construction is complete, with an anticipated opening of early fall.


  1. Very good news indeed, as these successful retail businesses should contribute a lot to the recovery of historic Gay Street as a premier shopping destination in Knoxville. On the other hand, I do not share the opinion that we have enough restaurants on Market Square. The best use of this community place seems to me to be for social activities, sharing food and fellowship being among the most prominent of these. Wouldn’t it be great to have a high quality Thai restaurant on Market Square?

  2. Downtown Worker says

    Excited to see the development on Gay Street! On another note, is there any update on this Gay Street business?

  3. Love it!

  4. Mary Linda Schwarzbart says

    Duane Grieve, architect and Vice Mayor / member of the Knoxville City Council, was responsible for restoration of the original Miller’s Department Store on Gay Street.

  5. Jennifer says

    It will be so great to have that big department store feeling again in our downtown. Mast General almost gets one there, but not quite. This is excellent news!

  6. our history of Millers is incorrect. True, Millers was a Gay street institution for many years. When Riches of Atlanta built on Henley and opened there in 1955, Millers bought the property where First Tennessee Plaza stands to build a new store to compete with Riches modern digs. Riches left Knoxville and Millers took over the Henley location scrapping plans for the new location down Gay. Millers had 2 downtown locations until Westown opened in 72. shortly after westown opened Gay street was closed

  7. Jennifer Holder says

    Great news! Two hard working entrepreneurs who couldn’t deserve success more.

  8. Just a perfect plan all around. Much better use of the Miller Building that will diversify its street portrait. It will also promote retail activity where there are plenty of potential customers. Great news.

  9. Thanks Alan, this is great news! Always good when a business is doing so well they need to expand! Those are my two fav stores!

  10. Katie P. says

    This is excellent! I love all the activity on the 400 Block!

    • Always a good thing. Urban Guy, speaking of that block, any word on the old bank building across from Region? It has the sign that says, leased or under contract. I would love to see something good go in but realistically it will probably be another bank branch or not…..

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        I don’t know what is going into the space, but the sign you reference has been up a long time. The building is complicated by multiple owners and that has been an impediment in the past. I’m hopeful for something other than a bank, myself.

  11. Melissa Johnson says

    Very interesting! I love seeing downtown grow!

  12. Caroline Mann says

    It would be a cool nod to the history of the Miller Building if they could incorporate the iconic yellow & blue Miller’s boxes into their new space. My grandmother was a faithful Miller’s shopper for decades, and told us countless stories of riding the bus “uptown” (as they called it then) in her finest dress, hat, and gloves to shop at Miller’s.
    Good luck to them!

    • Cyndy Cass says

      I also remember going with my mother and aunt “uptown” to shop at Miller’s, dressed up–with them wondering would it be ok to wear their “flats” (what they called their comfortable shoes.) It fascinated me that the “ladies lounge” at Miller’s on Gay St. had couches where women “exhausted” from shopping would be lounging about with feet propped up. It will be fun to shop in that area again!

  13. That is great news, I love both of those stores and it will be nice to have the space to shop comfortably and have shoes/clothes in the same space.

    I do wonder what will come to occupy the two spaces in Market Square. Hopefully not more restaurants, as we have enough in MS.

    • Agreed. It’s very exciting to think what stores might move into those spaces, now that two very successful downtown businesses are expanding. And yes, there are enough restaurants in that area.

  14. Marie Alcorn says

    This is GREAT NEWS!!!!

  15. Bill Pittman says

    Always great to see good things happening to great, hard-working folk!

  16. Aaron Thompson says

    Wow! Hello new neighbors!! This is so exciting!

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