Business Closings and Openings: How Are We Doing?

Chef Paul Sellas, Rebel Kitchen, 108 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, September 2018
Corks Wine and Spirits, 113 South Central Street, Knoxville, March 2018
Corks Wine and Spirits, 113 South Central Street, Knoxville, March 2018

My readership goes up on the days I announce a new business opening. I’ve never tracked it to be certain, but I think maybe it goes even higher when we have a closing, especially if it is a large or well-known business. In fact, despite the fact that readership of this website has increased every year I’ve written it, the most enduring record is the most page views in a day: December 19, 2014! The reason? I announced three closures in one day and over 19,000 people jumped on the site and more than a few people proclaimed the end of this silly downtown experiment.

For several years in a row, I tried to track openings and closings at the end of each year. Every time I tallied the numbers, the trend was clear: Far more businesses were opening than closing. More recently, I’ve reported on several that have closed and I feel I’m getting that old response again, with the implication that perhaps we’ve lost momentum.

Manager Phoebe Spooner, Owners Matt and Christie Moore, Kilwins, 408 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2018
Manager Phoebe Spooner, Owners Matt and Christie Moore, Kilwins, 408 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2018

So, let’s take a look at 2018, so far. How are we doing? What are we opening? Is it all bars and restaurants like some people say? What’s closing? Are there trends we can spot? I’ll also include completed development projects as that also is part of the story of how we’re doing.

For starters, there are a couple I haven’t mentioned: White Buffalo and Adorn, both in the Old City, closed in recent months. Both subtract from our non-hospitality retail pool, and that’s a precarious pool, so it hurts. So, we’re down two before we get started. Old City Athletic club also recently opened and I haven’t spotlighted it, just yet, so there’s an offset.

Exterior, Knoxville High Independent Living, Knoxville, April 2018
Exterior, Knoxville High Independent Living, Knoxville, April 2018

The year started quietly enough. Knoxville Chocolate Company opened on Market Square, though that was a move within the downtown area. Pretentious Beer Company  began brewing in January. They’d had a bar, but became a brewery. So, I wouldn’t really count either of these as new businesses. February was relatively quiet on the business front, but Maker’s Donuts was offered for sale and closed. Pace Bike Share began operation in an improbable month.

March’s sporadically warmer temperatures brought a number of openings. Steamboat Sandwiches, a Knoxville classic, re-opened its doors at its original location. Corks Wine and Spirits moved its store into the Old City. It seemed like quite a blow and, honestly, a surprise and disappointment to me when Five Bar announced its closure. It was softened a bit for me when I realized they simultaneously closed more than one location in multiple cities. Kilwin’s opened, signaling the start of an ice cream war, of sorts. Myrtle’s Chicken and Beer opened on Market Square. Downtown gained another event venue when The Press Room opened on Lamar, just off Broadway. The Central Filling Station opened on Central, giving Knoxville its first full-time food truck park. The Breadshed closed its doors.

Echelon Bicycles, 704 Sevier Avenue, Knoxville, June 2018

Knoxville High Senior Independent Living opened its doors in April after a long, sometimes painful path and residents began moving in. Nest closed on the 100 block. Vintage, Etc moved to another part of the city. Felding Co. opened on Broadway. Richmond Orchard, offering tiny homes, opened the doors to its first houses. After what seemed like years of waiting (it wasn’t really), Pearl on Union opened to the delight of Union Avenue habitues.

Ryan-Ashley Anderson opened her cool Smart+Becker in near east Knoxville. South Coast Pizza opened on the south shore. They’d opened just a little earlier, but in June, I spotlighted the recently opened Echelon Bicycles. Tall Man Toys and Comics opened just south of Emory Place on North Gay. Back-to-back relatively quiet months.

Natasha Fine, Owner/Instructor at Sheer Inspiration Pole Fitness, 121 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, July 2018

Coldstream Market closed in July after a five-year run. Sheer Inspiration Pole Fitness began dancing in the Old City. South Knox Healing Arts opened at a new location in South Knoxville. Matt Robb’s started making golden biscuits on Market Street. Potbelly closed its doors after a short run.

August was a big month, including the opening of Kindred Bridal in the Old City. The Double S Wine Bar opened on the 100 block and Blackhorse Brewery and Cruze Farm Dairy Shop each opened just a few blocks south on Gay Street. Royal Bark Social Club opened, offering doggie day care and more. Chef Jessie Newsmister opened Tako Taco, his second downtown restaurant. The Hyatt Place opened its rooftop bar. Central Cinema began showing films in Happy Holler and the Keener Building opened to residents on Broadway.

Chef Paul Sellas, Rebel Kitchen, 108 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, September 2018

In September, Knoxville Soap and Candle opened in downtown, offering another retail outlet. Jenna Baker opened Cook to be Well, offering her delicious prepared meals. Paragon Health, on the second floor of the Phoenix, opened its infusion center. The fabulous Rebel Kitchen opened in the Old City. Tommy Trent’s and Eddie’s Health Shoppe began their downtown business operations.

In October, long-time Old City institution, The Crown and Goose announced its closing. Elste Brewing Company, however, opened and added another craft brewery to our local list. The Tombras Cafe opened in the Tombras building, filling a new retail spot on Gay Street. Another piece of news that doesn’t quite fit this list, but is worth noting is that Union Avenue Books expanded, certainly a good indicator for the business barometer. Paysan Bread opened its brick and mortar location. Also, in what must be the triumphant return of the year, The Corner Lounge opened for business. The month ended with the opening of Kefi, a Greek cocktail restaurant.

Friends Celebrate Opening Night at Kefi, 120 East Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2018

November is just underway, so we’ll start with a partial month. I announced the pending opening of Simpl, but it hasn’t opened, yet, so it doesn’t count for present purposes. Sugar Mama’s closed and, while the owners announced plans for the future, that isn’t here, yet. We started the month with the announcement that chef Cedric Coant has opened Soiree, a spot for private French dinners and cooking lessons. (I enjoyed a wonderful evening there, by the way, with great food, drink and friends. Highly recommended!)

So, it’s a mixed bag. If your favorite places closed, it may not feel like a good year. By my count, eleven downtown business have closed, so far, in 2018. There could be more. The end of the year seems to attract one or two. No month had more than two closures. While eleven businesses closing may seem like a lot, businesses do that. A significant percentage of businesses fail, while many others close for various personal or other reasons. Six of the closures were food and drink related. Five were more traditional retail.

Alisa Hamby, Royal Bark Social Club, 206 Randolph Street, Knoxville, August 2018

So, what about those openings? I may be off a bit, but I spot forty-one new businesses, for a net gain of thirty so far this year. And the second half of the year has been strong, with August alone boasting nine new business openings. March and September each had six. Another way to think about it: We’ve averaged about one new business opening each week of the entire year.

And are they all food and drink? No. We did have a number of hospitality businesses open, but we also had Pace Bikes, Richmond Orchard, Felding Co., Knox High Senior Living, Smart + Becker, Tall Man Toys and Comics, Echelon Bikes, South Knox Healing Arts, Sheer Inspiration, Keener Residences, Central Cinema, Royal Bark Social Club, Kindred Bridal, Eddie’s Health Shoppe, the Infusion Center and Knoxville Soap and Candle. That’s sixteen non-hospitality retail or residential openings in under eleven months.

So, what can we take from all this? Well, the sky isn’t falling when a business or two close, or even when three closed at once on Market Square, like we had in December 2014. We’ll have more closures. Just keep it in perspective: We’re opening them much faster than we’re closing them. And they aren’t all restaurants and bars.