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

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