Perhaps more than any other part of Knoxville, the downtown area has always been a place to shop. As the city grew in the 1800s, Knoxville’s position on the banks of the Tennessee River and its railroad access made it a leading distribution center. Market Square and Gay Street have long supported shops and businesspeople looking to trade their wares.
Recent years have seen significant development in the area, from urban residential units to waterfront improvements to a handful of churches that rent space on Market Square and Gay Street. That increased activity means more people buying stuff.
Downtown shops seem to attract the young and the hip. You’ll spot 20-somethings, young professionals, college students, families pushing toddlers in strollers and hippies with dreadlocks and tattoos. You’ll come across artists and those who support organic food and community agriculture. But there are also enough College Republicans and seniors to keep things well-rounded.
Knoxville’s downtown is extremely walkable, making the shopping experience more urban with its large sidewalks and crosswalks. Market Square itself is traffic free.
The shops are unique and plentiful. Market Square is home to stores like Bliss Home and Abode. These, and other shops, sell art and framed photography (some of it by local artists), trendy clothing and accessories, furniture and chic home décor. They’re the sort of places you could leave with a onesie that says “homegrown,” a blanket made out of the ends of snipped-off neckties or an upscale IKEA-style sleeper sofa.
Shops like Reruns and Vagabondia sell fashionable clothing. In Vagabondia’s case, that means women’s fashion from designers like FLAX and April Cornell, as well as accessories such as Betmar hats, scarves and handbags. In Reruns’ case, that means stylish consignment clothing, shoes and accessories.
Gift shops include Bliss, Earth to Old City and Village Marketplace. These shops carry everything from candles and bath bombs to greeting cards, Jesus action figures and gift books. Village Marketplace sells fair trade products from all over the globe. You’ll find instruments, pottery and woven baskets from as far away as Kenya, Bangladesh and Cameroon.
Seven months out of the year, Market Square is home to a local farmer’s market. During that spring-to-early-fall period on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can purchase locally produced salad dressings, honey, bread, pastries, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.
A block away is historic Gay Street, home to several one-of-a-kind businesses. Downtown Wine + Spirits sells, well, wine and spirits. Yee-Haw Industries has original art-like products, including letterpress posters and handmade, woodcut, fine-art prints (its clients include New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Jones Soda and local musician Scott Miller). Mast General Store offers clothing, outdoor gear, local jams and sauces, R.C. Cola and more candy than a dozen grandmothers at Halloween. The city’s visitor center is also here, a fine spot for a snack or picking up a book about Knoxville or East Tennessee’s history and heritage.
Gay Street, particularly its north end, is also home to multiple art galleries. These include Art Market Gallery, Unarmed Merchants, Downtown Gallery, Gallery 1010 and Emporium Center for Arts & Culture. These galleries have paintings and other artwork (much of it local) that is diverse in style. You’ll gawk at landscapes, photography, modern art and portraits guaranteed to make your walls more visually appealing.
Though not as much a haven of shopping, the Old City also has its hotspots. Knoxville Cigar Company is a tobacconist for those who appreciate cigars, scotch and premium bourbons. Big Don the Costumier has masks, costumes, disguises and anything you’d need for Halloween or a masquerade. Fans of antiques and furniture may also stumble across a few treasures in this area.
© 2008, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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