A Look (Way) Back at Downtown Businesses: Do They Last? (Part Two)

Yassin’s Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Last Friday I looked at downtown businesses, from 2010 through 2013. I found that survival rates were about average for downtown Knoxville as compared to national business survival rates. In 2010, seven businesses opened and two remain open. In 2011, nineteen opened and eight remain open. In 2012, twenty-five opened and thirteen remain.   Of those that opened in 2013, six of seventeen remain. Overall, Knoxville barely edged out the national averages for the years covered.

Today I’ll look at 2014 through 2017. I cut it off there because 2018 would include some businesses open less than a full year. During these years, the pace of openings escalated. Part of that has to do with my expansion into areas outside downtown proper that have experienced renewed interested and development.

Thirty-two businesses opened in downtown Knoxville and surrounding areas in 2014. Of those, nineteen, or  rem59%ain open. National figures would suggest we should be down around 49% open after five years, so we’re doing markedly better among this set of businesses.

The ones that opened that year, but have since closed their doors include Five Bar, Holly’s Corner, Bootleg Betty, Empire Deli, Walmart (I’m counting it because it was on the KAT Trolley line and was considered an asset for downtown), Bar Marley, Zip Car, The Village Marketing Group, Bula Boutique, Flow: A Brew Parlor, James Freeman Interiors, Mangos Decor (later Adorn) and Coldstream Market.

Marc Nelson Jeans, 700 East Depot, Knoxville, May 2018

Marc Nelson Jeans, 700 East Depot, Knoxville, May 2018

The businesses that opened in 2014 and remain include Rocky Top Cross Fit, Citi-Fid-O, Sweet P’s, Architectural Antics, Retrospect, Local Motors (moved to Hardin Valley), Clancey’s Tavern, Hops and Hollers, Yassin’s Falafel House, Central Collective, Not Watsons, Publix (Also on the Trolley Line), Marc Nelson, Curious Dog, Oli Bea, Casual Pint, Knox Brew Tours, Rock Paper Salon and MidMod Collective.

In 2015, the rapid rate of openings continued, with twenty-nine businesses opening their doors. Of those, fifteen, or 52% remain open. According to the national rates, we would expect 56% to be open, so we are very close to the national average in 2015.

The businesses that opened in 2015 and later closed, include Holly’s 135, Zach Searcy Projects, Boxwood Brake, Market House Cafe, Maker’s Donuts, Impeccable Pig, Basement Community Art Studio, Barre Belle Yoga and Fitness Studio, Downtown Yoga, Armada, Park City Cigar, The Hive, Folly Boutique, Cafe de Soleil and Breadshed.

Alliance Brewing Company, 1130 Sevier Ave., Knoxville, November 2015

The fifteen remaining business that opened in 2015 include Pretentious Glass, Knox Whiskey Works, Waldorf Photographic Art, Knox Heritage Art and Salvage Shop (counted as new because it moved to a stand-alone location in 2015), Frussies (counted as new though it was open before at a south Knoxville location), Red Door Boudoir Photography, Painting with a Twist, Babalu, Alliance Brewing Company, Wild Lavender, Good Golly Tamale (counted as an opening because Matt moved his business from his cart alone, to the store-front), Stripped Light, Oliver Royale and Crafty Bastard.

2016 was the biggest year for numbers of openings in the eight years I examined, with a total of thirty-eight businesses getting their start. Of those, a large percentage are still around, with twenty-nine continuing to do business. With 76% of the businesses still open after three years, we are far out-pacing the national average of 61%. What was it about that year?

The businesses we’ve lost include Maker’s Donuts, Archer’s BBQ (still open at their other locations), Sugar Mama’s, Juice Bar, Artistic Bean, White Buffalo, Nest, Potbelly and Redbooth Group.

Old City Wine Bar, 108 West Jackson, Knoxville, August 2018

The list of business from 2016 that remain open include Wild Love Bakehouse, Awaken Coffee, Old City Wine Bar, Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain, Balter Brewing, Geo Hair Lab, Last Days of Autumn, Tailgate, Temple Photography, Emilia, Mill and Mine, Harrogate’s Lounge, Covenant Convenient Care, The Juice Box, Kaizen, Blue Slip Bistro, Shulz Brau Brewing, Urban Town Chess, A Dopo Pizza, Maple Hall, Lonesome Dove, Chivo Taqueria, Tori Mason Shoes, Pop Weasel, Bloomer’s, Pretentious Beer, South Landing Crossfit, Uncle Lem’s, and JC Holdway.

Finally, 2017 saw nearly as many new businesses as the previous year, with thirty-four openings. Of those, twenty-seven, or 79% remain open. The expectation after two years is that 66% of new businesses will remain open. It’s daunting for anyone considering a business venture to think that nearly one-in-three will close in two years or less.

The seven businesses that opened in 2017 and didn’t make it past the two-year mark include Modern Studio, Exhale Old City, Lady Parts, City Lights Bar and Grill, Broadway Market, 19 Square Bar and Asian Kitchen (the name has changed, but it’s really hard to track), and White Dog Gallery.

SoKno Taco Cantina, 1701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

The lengthy list of still open businesses started in 2017 include Honey Bee, Kybra, Pour, Pizzeria Nora, Elkmont Exchange, SoKno Taco, Body Mind Realign Chiropractic, Knox Makers, The Tennessean, Magnolia Records (they moved to Central Street), The Parlor at Maple Hall, ED Bailey Barber, Bat N Rouge, Merchants of Beer, Riverside Veterinary Clinic, The Change Center, Vienna Coffee, Central Cinema, The Landing House, Post Modern Spirits, Lillian Ruth Bridal, Cafe Vicolo, Kilwins, Corks Wine and Spirits, Culture Hair Salon, Bees Knees Hair Salon and Hyatt Place.

The upshot of the comparisons to national rates is that downtown Knoxville businesses are remaining open at higher rates than their national counterparts. While it may sometimes seem we have an inordinate number of closures, that is due to other factors than the actual number of closures. Perhaps we focus more on closures. Perhaps the huge number of new businesses means the number of closures would be higher. If we were only opening a half-dozen businesses a year, we’d be closing fewer.

The sky is not falling on downtown businesses. Quite the opposite: they are healthy and opening at a rapid and increasing rate.


  1. Aaron Thompson says

    Let’s see a list of businesses open between 2000-2010 🙃

    2016 was a big year for foodie restaurants! Love these analytical posts Alan.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I like the analytics, as well. 2000 – 2010 would be a very short list.

      • Mast General Store

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          Good catch.

          • Aaron Thompson says

            It is NOT a short list considering how many businesses close every year. Those that paved the way and gave investors confidence to open so many businesses between 2010-2019 should be celebrated (full disclosure, I own one of them).

            -Downtown Grill and Brewery (opened 1990s?)
            Tomato Head (opened early 2000s)
            -Bistro by the Bijou (early 2000s?)
            -Pres Pub (opened early 2000s?)
            -Sapphire (2005)
            -Bliss (2005?)
            -Nama (2006)
            -Regal Riveria (2007)
            -Urban Bar (2007?)
            -Public House (2008?)
            -Barleys (2008?)
            -Carleos/Southbound (2008?)
            -Coffee & Chocolate (2009?)

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            No offense intended, Aaron. Those are important businesses. Java, Earth to Old City, Boldure Gifts, Nouveau Classics, Rala and Robin Easter Design also spring to mind among those still open. That said, the total from the decade plus is shorter than from just one of the years I covered, that’s all. I also don’t have a readily accessible list of those businesses that would be complete enough for me to be sure I included the ones still open and the others that closed. Even in my more recent list there were businesses which many people had forgotten.

          • Aaron Thompson says

            Certainly a short list when you compare as you said, but perhaps from the analytic standpoint that is what makes it compelling that said businesses have lasted versus those that do not. It seems like a compiled list of all open downtown businesses and for it to be complete I wanted to see it with everything that’s still open. I love lists, especially when they are by year!

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            True. Also, OP Jenkins, Vine Furniture, Pete’s and probably more. I would love to have the time and capacity to look at what the businesses that closed have in common and the same for those that remained. I don’t know that there would be anything there, but it would be good to take a look.

  2. Lisa Sorensen says

    I think Tailgate is still open?


    Excellent work!! Thank you.

  4. Did Maker’s Donuts open and close in both 2015 and 2016?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Yes. 🙂 No. That is an error. It was less clear than I thought as I went through the articles and sometimes I overlapped years. Sorry for any confusion.

  5. Will Bolduc says

    Although we snuck in at the end, Central Depot opened December of 2017 just north of the Old City in what would he dubbed the “Depot District” by Alan Sims 😉

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks, Will. I probably wrote about it just after the start of the year and that’s why I didn’t catch that.

  6. Chris Hill says

    Thanks for compiling these fascinating lists of opening and closing businesses downtown. The next step is for some enterprising student of entrepreneurship at UT or elsewhere to dig more deeply into the factors that seem to affect downtown business success. Were those that have closed under-capitalized from from the get-go, did their owner(s) experience a personal problem that affected the business, did partners have a falling out, did rising rents undercut their profitability, etc? Garnering the next level of of insight could yield helpful guidance to future would-be entrepreneurs and investors as well as to city officials concerned with promoting downtown development.

  7. Are you counting the Juice Box still being open based on their west locations? Also, Bat ‘N’ Rouge was previously open in the basement of the JFG when I moved down here in 2015 and had been for a while, but they moved up to Gay in 2017 from what I remember.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I think I’m right on this one. The one on Market Square was the Juice Bar and I counted it as closed. The Juice Box is on Broadway and is still open.

      • Yeah, you’re right. Juice BAR is definitely the one that was on Market Square. Haha. Too close in name and my brain wasn’t processing it properly, though. But I know Bat N Rouge opened earlier than you have them listed in the JFG basement but moved to Gay when your article says.

      • There is a Juice Bar location still open in Bearden, 4801 Kingston Pike:

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          True, but it pre-dated this one and this one didn’t move. It’s a good example of how compiling a list that seems so cut-and-dry is really more complicated.

  8. Don DeVore says

    After two years of blood, sweat & tears, Broadway Market was forced to close when the property owner chose not to honor his verbal commitment to extend our lease for another year. Renter Beware.

    That space, 1322 N. Broadway has remained dark and vacant since.
    Dead Zone.

    Most positively, we have signed a lease on a far superior downtown
    location (plenty of free parking at the door & on the trolley route) and
    construction is in the final stages.

    Thanks to all for your past & continued support. We look forward to
    serving you great food again! Follow us on Facebook/Instagram
    Don & Lauren DeVore

  9. Appears from reading the list the 100 block of Gay St. continues to be a tough go for new businesses. Am I right?

  10. Thanks for all your research and positive info on our awesome area!!!

  11. I live in Danville, Kentucky and I visit Knoxville quite often since my son-in-law and his family own and operate a brewery on Bernhard Avenue. Every time I visit Knoxville I stay downtown. Needless to say it is a drain on the pocketbook because downtown is so convenient to shop and eat. My son-in-law and daughter recently purchased a home and now the money I spent on hotels can be spent on more shopping and eating. 😊 I really enjoy reading your articles and I share them often. I also eat at a lot of the places you have eaten. I receive your articles via my email address listed below. Thanks and keep sharing.

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