Astral convergence on Kingston Pike; wildly varying planes of reality intersecting in a small strip mall; one-stop shopping, in short, taken to the next level. Baron's Place, located just a few blocks west of Bridgewater Road, has something for everyone.
For example, Off the Wall at Baron's Place features Grateful Dead paraphernalia; Budget Bridal by Connie will outfit your wedding; Pouch Place, the Medical Specialty Shoppe, provides all your colostomy needs (presumably in the charming manner of the Old English country colostomy shoppe).
If you're a bride with a pouch booking a jam band to play the reception, you're in business. If you intend to serve blintzes, caviar, and kluski slaskie (every wedding reception needs Silesian dumplings), you've really got it made. International Delicacies, a small shop crammed with imported groceries from Eastern Europe, adds the final touch to the weird Baron's Place mix.
If International Delicacies' presence in the strip mall is cosmic serendipity, its location in Knoxville is the end point of a comparatively straightforward story. Manager Liliya Cirstea's family—her mother, father, and seven brothers and sisters—came to the United States from the Ukraine in the mid-'90s, driven out of their village by the turmoil surrounding the break-up of the Soviet Union.
They settled first in California, then moved to Oregon, where Liliya's father and brothers worked in construction. When her father suffered a knee injury on the job, he found the ocean mists of the Pacific Northwest aggravated the pain. A brother worked on a building project in Atlanta, with some work in Knoxville, and his reports on the city—the river, the hills, the moderate climate, no ocean—appealed to the family. They decided to move to Tennessee.
If the notion of 10 people moving as a unit around the world and across the continent seems kind of, well, Old Country, Cirstea explains that was the way she grew up. "It was a village and you knew the same people your whole life," she says. "There was a very strong sense of community. Our family is very united."
The notion of community explains a lot about the appeal of International Delicacies, which opened its doors in 2003. Buying from importers, primarily in New York but also in California, Detroit, and Chicago, Cirstea stocks the store's shelves with canned goods, grains, juices, sweets, and cheeses from Russia, Belarus, Croatia, Bulgaria, and other countries. International Delicacies meets the needs of an Eastern European community in Knoxville that Cirstea estimates may number 500 to 2,000 people.
This means shoppers of all backgrounds can find goodies unavailable anywhere else in town, and though most of the foods are imported, the prices are surprisingly low. The shop is big on sweets, including a wide selection of exotic liquor-filled chocolates. There are lots of teas to go with the sweets, and herbs such as valerian for medicinal purposes. International Delicacies offers sausages prepared in New York in European styles with European spices, as well as frozen and smoked fish and a full selection of imported caviars.
It pays to be adventurous, but some tastes may have to be acquired; the popular Russian drink, kvass, fermented in vats of soaked rye bread, tastes pretty much as you would imagine. Reading the labels is also an adventure, with translations into Ukrainian, Russian, German, and, as an afterthought, English. One cookie's ingredients include "a flour wheaten (premium), confiture bilberry, vegetative fat, fructose, an egg powder, dry skimmed milk, fluffers, soda food, salt, and powder vanilla."
It's fun to be on someone else's turf. As Cirstea says, "If you can't travel, you can come here." And if you are from Eastern Europe, you probably already know about International Delicacies. A community center at the front of the store posts announcements and customers' business cards. "People come here to meet people," she says. "We don't make a whole lot of money, but we form bonds with our regular customers." m