Bliss and Tori Mason Shoes, 445 Gay Street, Knoxville, November 2017
I was prepared for the new store on Gay Street to be appealing and an improvement over the offices previously at that address. Familiar with what has been offered at Bliss and Tori Mason Shoes, I knew the merchandise would be attractive and appealing. I was in no way prepared for my first impression when I walked through the door: This is a good-sized department store.
Scott Schimmel and Lisa Sorensen first opened Bliss at 24 Market Square in 2003. That original store, was later joined by Bliss Home at 29 Market Square, a concept which they still maintain in west Knoxville. The couple changed the 29 Market Square location to Tori Mason shoes a bit over a year ago, mostly stocking it with shoes that had been crammed together in the back of Bliss.
In moving to the new Gay Street location, the stores gained significant square footage. Tori Mason Shoes had about 1,800 square feet of retail space, while Bliss had about 2,800. The new location has about 7,000 square feet devoted to retail space, providing about a fifty percent increase over the previous locations. That increase, plus the consolidation makes the new store seem like a much larger enterprise.
Certain they had added a significant amount of merchandise, I was told it isn’t the case. While there has been a small increase, the effect may simply be that the merchandise, previously crowded into a smaller space, is now visible. Urban Woman’s first read was that she found a lot of items she’d never noticed before, saying that when the old store was crowded, just navigating the aisles, particularly if the store was crowded, prevented her from seeing some of the products.
In addition to the increased square footage, the fact that the ceiling is so high and the natural light so prevalent, has to play a part in the feeling of spaciousness. The windows which were previously darkened, are now clear and the store is quite well illuminated in the daylight without much need of artificial lighting.
The move marks a return to retail for a building built for that purpose. The building we now commonly call the Miller’s Building (though I’ve heard some recently calling it the KUB Building – which will forever be down the street, for us older timers – in what will soon be called the Tombras Building – Got that?) is actually three buildings built in stages in 1905, 1911 and 1935. Bliss and Tori Mason Shoes assumes the most recently constructed portion.
Miller’s Department store left the location in the 1950s and its recent history has included little, if any retail. KUB owns the building and seems to recognize its best use in the current resurgence of downtown Knoxville to be retail. Hats off to them for making way for this transformation and return to the building’s roots. There are several other high-profile spots along the western side of Gay Street that would do well to follow suit.
If you haven’t already experienced the new store, do so. If you remember the old stores, you’ll be surprised. In any case, you’ll find a large selection of shoes, women’s clothing, gifts, children’s items, Knoxville-related items and much more. The store is open 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday and from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Sundays.