Keep Knoxville Scruffy.
Emblazoned on bumper stickers and shop windows throughout the city, this slogan has become a movement to preserve Knoxville's roots.
Jack Neely, associate editor of Metro Pulse and a Knoxville historian, said that "Keep Knoxville Scruffy" was created by Scott and Bernadette West, owners of Preservation Pub, as a reaction to the "Keep Austin Weird" movement.
Promoting loyalty to small businesses in Austin, Texas, "Keep Austin Weird" refers to the local attractions and unique businesses that one can only experience within that particular city. Knoxville's take on this idea provides local flavor, but the history behind those three words lends context.
"That adjective originated with Wall Street Journal reporter Susan Harrigan, who in 1980 wrote a skeptical story called 'What if you gave a World's Fair and nobody came?'" Neely said. "She described Knoxville dismissively as 'a scruffy little city on the Tennessee River.'"
While the label "scruffy" was not initially welcomed, the descriptor was soon reclaimed with defiant pride. Sporting the declaration "The Scruffy Little City Did It" on t-shirts and pins after the 1982 World's Fair, Knoxville locals celebrated the city's triumph.
"Around 2010, I planned a series of podcast talk shows called 'The Scruffy Citizen,'" Neely said. "We did about 80 of them. Then there was a monthly live-radio (WUTK) music show called 'Scruffy City Ramble,' hosted by Scott Miller, Benny Smith and me. I think it's on venue-related hiatus at the moment, but I hope it will return."
Earth to Old City, a Knoxville area boutique in business for more than 20 years, has worked to generate interest in the history of Knoxville and promote shopping locally.
Lindsey West, an employee at Earth to Old City for nearly six years, affirmed that residents still embrace this term of endearment.
"We began our line of 'Keep Knoxville Scruffy' merchandise around two years ago when Scott West came up with the idea to tweak the slogan," West said. "We began printing the slogan on t-shirts, but because of its popularity we've expanded the line to include hoodies, bags, cozies, and anything we can put it on."
Despite architectural improvements, Neely said he believes the revival of this historic phrase remains relevant.
"Knoxville's a whole lot more obviously impressive today than it was in 1980, but I think it still has some scruff to it, and always will," Neely said. "And I think that's what some people like about it."