There are a number of ways to look at what’s happening downtown. I’ve continued to take photographs because the images of the era, from hand-made signs, to empty streets and including the beautiful trees and flowers of this spring all need to be remembered. This is a time that will live in history books filled with facts and figures. There is also a human story.
Another way I’ve looked at downtown is from my balcony. I can observe a remarkable amount of activity, even with the city in a semi-shut down. I’ll share sports pictures with you soon, for example. But I can also see the top decks of the Promenade Garage. There are just about 140 spaces there. Pre-corona a regular day would find about 130 cars parked there during the business day. They shut the garage when it gets close to capacity.
Almost any evening or any time during the weekend it would be full. Sunday morning there would be spaces, but by High Brunch time, they would be gone until into the evening. Now? I count just about 50 cars during the work day, instead of 130. At night it drops to 30 or so. It was no different this weekend or today. Evidence of an opening up were not to be found there.
Then there is the landscape of the business world. It’s so constantly changing that making a list of the current status of downtown businesses is likely a fool’s errand. It changes by the time it is written. One example of that is the sign I photographed and included here that said the virus chased the business away. Now they are back.
At the risk of being dated by the time you read this, here’s a sample of some Gay Street Businesses and their current situations. Of course, the Bijou and Tennessee Theatres are closed. It’s hard to imagine when they will be open again. Still, there are signs of life up and down the street. This won’t cover them all, but I’ll start at the river and head north for a bit. I’ll end with a poignant post from the Sapphire FB page in which owner Aaron Thompson details the bind so many businesses are in.
Blount Mansion: Closed
Bistro at the Bijou: Closed
Frussies: Open Monday-Saturday 11am-2pm for ONLINE pick up orders, not for dine-in
Dazzo’s: Online and phone orders for takeout and delivery
Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts: Open (But still taking orders for curbside pickup)
The Flower Pot: Taking Orders and Making Deliveries
Rick Terry Jewelers: Remains closed this week at the downtown location, but they are open in Farragut
East Tennessee History Center: Closed
Clancy’s Tavern: Take out or curbside service will be Monday-Saturday 5-10pm.
The Market: Open
Knox Mason: Closed
K Brew: Open
Finally, I’ll let Aaron explain the intricate difficulties of navigating this strange era for businesses. Sapphire continues to do pick-up and delivery of food, cocktails and wine nightly.
First, the reason they are not currently open:
Sapphire will not be opening on May 1st. While we understand the need to reopen the local economy, we can not agree to reopen under the guidelines they have set in place. Sapphire is a place of social interaction where people go to meet each other. Social distancing to the degree required during Phase One is counter to giving our primary experience. While guests may be protected from one another, our staff will not have the opportunity to remain six feet from each other or the guests.
Therefore, Sapphire’s reopening will occur when guidelines have been lightened and it is safe to return. In the meantime, we will continue to provide carry-out and delivery cocktails and food. Thank you and we will see you soon!
Finally, the struggle (posted on April 29):
Hello friends, in light of our decision to stay closed an additional month, I’d like to explain a little bit about our experience with the paycheck protection plan (PPP). If you aren’t a small business owner, odds are you likely haven’t spent much time reading the particulars of this loan program. If you have, you’ve likely been confused by the vague language about what is supposed to be spent on what.
Our understanding is 75% must be spent on payroll and 25% must be spent on mortgage interest, rent or utilities.
Let’s tackle payroll first. Say you’re given $35,700 to spend on payroll of a $50,000 PPP loan. The rules indicate you must spend that $37,500 by June 30th on the same number of employees you claimed you had when you applied (pre-layoffs). What if 80% of your staff went on unemployment and doesn’t wish to return to an unsafe work environment because there is no safe space for restaurant workers right now? What if you can’t find people to take their place because all the other laid off restaurant workers are drawing unemployment and don’t want to risk their necks before it’s safe? That’s reality for independent small business owners right now.
Next let’s talk about the other 25% of the PPP. $12,500 remains of the $50k. Let’s say your rent is $8500 per month, (and the landlord expects payment in full because they know you got your PPP), and utilities average $2500. In one month, your 25% is almost spent. By month two, you are upside down regarding the PPP loan.
Now let’s say the city issues a reopening strategy to try and help “save its economy”. On one hand, you could reopen to try and salvage this situation and create sales so you don’t take a loss. Although to do so, you are risking your workers health, your reputation if people get sick, and possible law suits down the road god forbid you infect someone and they die. This is the current reality for many small business operators thinking about opening during Phase 1.
By closing during Phase 1, we opt to take a major loss that the PPP loan will not cover in order to protect our staff, our brand, and our conscience. By design, the PPP loan was only intended to float a business for two months. However, because it was based off of payroll and fixed costs weren’t taken into consideration, the loan does not actually cover all of the fixed costs such as KUB and rent for most. By June, we will be swimming deep in the red unless there is a change in legislation and we’re given additional financial assistance from the government.
The reality for most bars and restaurants choosing to close during Phase 1 is that it will be a major loss. Our 25% of PPP funds and our CARES money are spent before we even get into May. There is no government bailout for our business right now. Thankfully, we have savings and will use them to cover our bills that must be paid. We could use your help. Please write your congressperson, senator, and sign petitions. Get small businesses like ours more financial help. We’ve had the pleasure of serving you for 15 years and plan to continue for many, many years to come. Thank you! 🙏❤️
We want to thank our friends and extended family. Since March 16th, our amazing regulars have humbled us by raising over $20,000. They’ve purchased gift cards, to-go food and cocktails, bought T-Shirts and straight cash donations to benefit the staff. This has helped us pay the staff while waiting on our PPP and cover some fixed costs. Rest assured, there will be lavish parties in the future to thank you!
Inscription from the above battlefield monument in Fort Sanders: The hands that were once raised in strife now clasp a brother’s hand, and long as flows the tide of life, in peace, in toil, when war is rife, we shall as brothers stand, one heart, one soul for our free land. J.I.C. Clarke
This week I’m purchasing a $25 gift card to Barley’s and another $25 gift card to Tree and Vine. To enter send an email to KnoxvilleUrbanGuy@gmail.com with the subject header “Barley’s Gift Card Giveaway” or “Tree and Vine Gift Card Giveaway,” depending on which you want to enter. The deadline to enter is midnight Friday night.
Same rules as before: “like” Knoxville Page on Facebook to help us help local businesses and donate at least $10 to something supporting COVID efforts or to someone impacted by the pandemic. Confirm in the email that you’ve done both and tell me how much and to whom you donated. Each entry requires its own donation. If you cannot donate at this time, enter anyway and just say so. It’s all good. The contest runs until midnight Friday night.
In the meantime, if you’d like to have access to multiple local gift card purchase options at once, visit Knoxville Page. If you’d like to have your business represented there, send me an email at Knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com and I’ll connect you up. During this difficult time, all money for gift cards goes directly to the business you choose to support.