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