New Businesses are Coming, But Some Old Ones Are Going Away

Pace Dockless Bike Share, Bikes, Racks and Signage, Knoxville, February 2018
Rock Paper Hair Studio, 11 Market Square, Knoxville, May 2017

It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that post-pandemic Knoxville will not be the same. In some cases, that means we’ll have new businesses, like a donut shop, a tea and herb bar, and a cat cafe. As the days became weeks, then months, however, it was inevitable that some businesses would not survive.

The first to announce it would not return was Babalu. The troubled chain had been sold, been through bankruptcy and had closed temporarily for renovations, so the closure, which came very early in the pandemic, felt only marginally related to the crisis. Clearly, this closure would not be the last and others promise to be more surprising.

While Market Square has added a business (Nature’s Crossing Tea Bar), another has vacated the square. One of my favorite stories of my ten year run was written about the move of Rock Paper Hair Salon to Market Square. They took the space previously occupied by Local Motors, which had never quite seemed a fit for the square. It was Jared and Dustin’s back story and history at that address that I enjoyed learning.

The two opened a second location in west Knoxville this past fall and came close to dropping their lease on Market Square at that time, but opted to keep it and have two locations. Given that their decision to remain at 11 Market Square was tenuous last fall, it is no surprise that they have decided to move forward with their west location only.


In their place at 11 Market Square will be V’owd Weddings. Their website promises “A different kind of wedding brand . . . that won’t break the bank.” I’ve reached out to them and hope to learn more, soon. According to their Google profile they are opening June 20, so we should know more, soon.

Pace Dockless Bike Share, Bikes, Racks and Signage, Knoxville, February 2018

In the meantime, we’ve lost another downtown business that didn’t operate out of a storefront. Zagster’s Pace bike sharing rental operations is ceasing to operate nationally, and that includes shutting down their Knoxville operations. Accounts have already been terminated and the bikes are being removed.

The service was launched in February 2018 and was an instant hit downtown. Even as this closure must have been in motion, Pace bike sightings around downtown were common during the early days of the pandemic. It added to leisure travel around downtown and for more utilitarian trips.

Pace Dockless Bike Share, Bikes, Racks and Signage, Knoxville, February 2018

The city is committed to finding another vendor interested in bringing bike shares back to the downtown market. Given the city’s commitment to the sustainable mode of transportation and the explosion of interesting in cycling among downtown and nearby citizens, it seems likely this will be worked out and we’ll have a new post-pandemic ride share.

The changes discussed here are only the beginning of what is likely to come. I’m aware of at least one unannounced business, a new development project and, sadly, there will likely be more closures. We’ll get through this, but we won’t be the same on the other side. Hopefully, in some respects, we’ll be better even as new businesses emerge which would not have otherwise been possible.