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Gay Street Businesses Like the New Look 
Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue Intersection
The eye-catching improvements at the Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue intersection

If this week’s First Friday event or the Veterans Day Parade next Friday, Nov. 10, will be the first time you’ve visited Gay Street in a while, you’ll definitely notice recent streetscape improvements.

In September, new pedestrian upgrades were completed on three Gay Street intersections – at Clinch, Church and Cumberland avenues.

The latter two intersection upgrades mark the official end of the City’s $1.5 million rebuild of the 700 block of South Gay Street between Cumberland and Clinch. The major utility and sidewalk work was done last year, and finishing touches – like tree plantings – carried over into early 2017.

The new intersections remedied rough, uneven surfaces and added pedestrian safety enhancements and decorative patterns that resemble a brick surface.

The merchants in the 700 block like the new look.

“More people are coming around now since the project has finished, and the new brick sidewalks helped to finally tie us into the rest of the Gay Street pedestrian route,” said Jay Brandon, owner and chef at Frussies Deli and Bakery.

Brandon said that prior to the 700 block's sidewalks matching the rest of Gay Street’s brick-surfaced sidewalk system, many would-be patrons assumed the retail and restaurants stopped at Church Avenue.

“The project has helped with the continuation of foot traffic to our door, and I expect it to eventually draw customers from the other side of the river once Regal (Entertainment Group) moves into its new headquarters,” he said.

Jay Brandon, Frussies Deli and Bakery
Jay Brandon, owner and chef at Frussies, shows off some freshly-baked bread.

Located at the corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue, Frussies is promoted as “an old school, New York-style deli” that offers 11 different types of daily-baked breads, also roasting and curing its deli meat on site.

“If you order one of our reubens, it’s been two weeks in the making – it’s cured right here in the deli,” Brandon said.

Customers can even purchase loaves of freshly-baked bread or pecan-topped brownies to go. The deli offers free delivery to the downtown area, including the University of Tennessee campus.

Though Frussies is primarily open for lunch, it extends its hours until 8 p.m. for First Friday events, including the one held this Friday, Nov. 3.

Emily Campen, wife of Councilman Mark Campen and owner of The Flower Pot, located on the corner of Gay Street and Church Avenue, agrees that the 700 block rebuild has helped the businesses there.

Emily Campen, The Flower Pot
Emily Campen, owner, prepares some floral arrangements in the cooler at The Flower Pot.

“As tough as the (construction) closures were at the time, it’s been so worth it in the end,” she said.

Her store’s sandwich board reads “$10 for a dozen roses” and stands on the new brick sidewalk.

Between her three flower shops (located on Gay Street, Broadway and Chapman Highway), Campen said The Flower Pot orders around 4,000 stems each week, some of which are imported from Central and South America.  

Campen anticipates an even bigger business increase on Gay Street, with a hotel soon opening on one side of her shop and the relocation of a Knoxville advertising agency’s headquarters underway on the other.

Gay Street and Church Avenue Intersection
The Flower Pot is located at the Gay Street and Church Avenue intersection.

“I think this investment shows that the City cares about the 700 block, and that fact helps us citizens and business owners to recognize its value, too,” said Campen.

"We've seen the highs and lows that downtown has experienced over the last 45 years, so we knew infrastructure upgrades would be a storm we just had to ride out. We now have a beautiful, open street on our block that people enjoy and often compliment when they come in."

Martha Boggs, chef and owner of both the Bistro at the Bijou and Dazzo’s Pizzeria on Gay Street, said her restaurants had different experiences through the construction.

Martha Boggs, Bistro at the Bijou
Martha Boggs, owner and chef, serves customers at the Bistro at the Bijou.

“Dazzo’s was really lucky - we didn’t drop off like I expected it to,” Boggs said. “It was the Bistro that was affected more by construction.”

Dazzo’s Pizzeria is located in the center of the 700 block, offering what Boggs describes as a great place to get New York-style pizza, with eclectic concert posters on the wall that give the place “a cool vibe.”

When asked the signature dish at Dazzo’s, she said, without hesitation, that it’s “Grandma’s Pizza,” which is a New Jersey-style thin crust pizza topped with crushed san marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and “tons of cheese.”

The Bistro at the Bijou is located at the corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue and boasts a locale in the Bijou Theatre, Knoxville’s fourth oldest building (circa 1820) with deep roots in the city’s history.

Once a hotel, the building hosted an impressive guest list, including Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes, James K. Polk and Ulysses S. Grant. During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital for the Union Army. The Bijou Theatre was opened in 1909.

Today, customers can take in the building’s history while enjoying Boggs’ well-known farm-to-table dishes including sandwiches, burgers, steaks, pasta and seafood.

Four nights a week, the Bistro at the Bijou becomes a speak-easy, hosting what Boggs calls “world-class jazz music.”

“The construction wasn’t easy, but it felt like the City bent over backwards trying to help us businesses through it all,” Boggs said. “Sometimes, the workers even helped me when my hands were full and I struggled getting around the closure signs.”

Asked about the end product, Boggs shares the sentiment of the other business owners in the 700 block.

“I like the continuity into the rest of Gay Street’s sidewalks - we don’t feel like the red-headed step-child anymore,” she said. “They look really nice, and hopefully it’ll generate more visitors.”

Bistro at the Bijou
Monday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Dazzo’s Pizzeria
Monday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday  11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

The Flower Pot
Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Frussies Deli and Bakery
Monday-Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
(Hours extended to 8 p.m. on First Fridays)

Posted by On 02 November, 2017 at 5:09 PM