Downtown has been a source of growth over the last decade in the city of Knoxville. At the center of this downtown evolution is the Market Square District.
Market Square, which is home to a variety of eclectic restaurants, shops and music venues, has gained at least four new businesses over the past few months.The Peanut Shop, a franchise of Smithfield Foods, is one such business. John Nolan, assistant manager of the Market Square store, has worked at The Peanut Shop since it's arrival to Knoxville earlier this year in April. The store has seen success in the area even though it was a somewhat unexpected addition to the Market Square community.
"I was skeptical myself going into this market," Nolan said. "But like most of the other businesses in this area, it is a specialty store, and so it fits in well."Everyone seems to like peanuts, except those who are allergic."Nolan believes part of this success is due to the lack of traditional advertising the business used.
"We focused more on word of mouth and used free samples and coupons to connect with the community," Nolan said. "We just wanted to engage people, and we got a good response from people who just liked being in this atmosphere."
It is this atmosphere that has made Megan Scheuneman, junior in social work, a regular on the Market Square scene. Although Scheuneman has lived in Knoxville her entire life, she only started frequenting the downtown area upon her arrival at UT.
"In the past few years especially, Market Square is more of a place to do stuff and hang out with friends," Scheuneman said. "And it's not just college students, its everybody."People want to be downtown more than they did when I was growing up."The largest of the recently opened stores in Market Square is Urban Outfitters, which opened in mid-April. According to Luke LeBoeuf, an Urban employee who has worked there since its opening, the store has seen a lot of success with the UT demographic.
"I recognized the product on people at UT even before the store opened in Knoxville," LeBoeuf said, junior in psychology. "It's a good product for Market Square because it brings in a younger clientele."In addition to Urban Outfitters and The Peanut Shop, the Orange Leaf and BlueTique Cheap Chic have also been recent additions to the square. Although this growth is evidence of a positive change, Nolan says he has a bigger vision for the future of Market Square.
"People want to get together and have fun; let's do something with that," Nolan said. "I like the direction Market Square is going, especially because downtown has so much to offer. As a community and a business, it is our job to tap this market and get people to come here."One challenge to this, according to Nolan, is the issue with parking downtown.
"One of the biggest obstacles to this is parking," Nolan said. "A lot of people come to the Market Square garage and if they can't find a spot, they just decide to go somewhere else. There needs to be more affordable parking."
The existence of a parking issue, however, is evidence of the changes taking place downtown. Changes that will continue to impact Knoxville's economy.Olivia Wooliver, senior in nutrition, has worked at Rita's for three years and has witnessed this explosion of growth firsthand. A Knoxville native, Wooliver has also heard the negative perceptions that frequented downtown in the early 1990s from her parents.
"My parents used to tell me how shady Market Square used to be, ten, twenty years ago," Wooliver said. "No one used to come down. Now it's the place to be."