I have always loved charm bracelets. They are the jeweled storybooks of adventure and affection. A heavenly weekend for me includes wandering the isles of Nostalgia in Bearden looking for Knoxville charms. This morning I started to think about other charms of Knoxville: The elusive ones too big for your wrist and found only after getting to know a place. Who needs Pandora and Brighton when you can have these priceless gifts from Wonderville? I offer below a beginner’s collection of some of the truly great and unsung charms of Knoxville. None of the people listed have any knowledge that I am mentioning them here. Matter fact, these folks don’t even know I write this column. The point is that they charm me. And I bet they will charm you, too.
Lets start with Paramount U-Li-Ka Cleaners on Broadway. Owner Susan McConnell and her stunning daughter Emily remember everyone by name. Once, they offered to deliver a shirt to my house at an obscene hour so I could carry it with me on an early plane flight. The wizard of the place is Cheryl Key who has the unexpected talent of knowing how to block a St. John knit. The Sequoyah Hills glitterati wives travel to Buckhead, spend around a $1,500 for a St. John knit suit, and wear them at cruise-ship dinners or GOP luncheons in Nashville. The brand’s fabric is instantly recognizable, indestructible, and refuses to wrinkle. Once you’ve plunked down the money, a trusted cleaner is required to “block” the fabric so the garment fit stays perfect. Blocking is a skill unknown to most in the dry cleaning business. Cheryl has Olympic blocking skills as good as anyone in Beverly Hills or Washington D.C. Thanks to Cheryl, I can cruise eBay and buy my power suits for much less money. Once Cheryl does her magic, the hens at Club LeConte will know what you are wearing, but won’t have a clue what you paid for it.
If you pay attention to clothes, then you need a good tailor. I was informed correctly that the best in town is Harb’s Tailoring and Alteration in Market Square. Mr. Harb is an experience in old-world service and craftsmanship. He can reweave the hole your husband put in his Brooks Brothers jacket and he made a leather coat from T.J.Maxx look like couture for me.
Speaking of Market Square, it appears from the after-10 a.m. crowds that Wonderville has figured out the Saturday Farmers’ Market is the place to be. Look for the Tickiwoo Farms stall. If you are near a computer, go to their website (tickiwoofarm.com). Jim and Paula Tapner, the chicken charmers of said farm, treat their little egg machines with love and a bit of whimsy. You know this because of the sign in the stall that has pictures of hens along with their names. Always good to know who made your breakfast. The website boasts stories of hens coaxed to enjoy the great outdoors and something called a movable chicken tractor. A happy chicken is Dalai Lama-approved and lays better-tasting eggs. Bravo.
The last gem in today’s offertory is literally a gem. I speak of the funky garden of jewels known as the Little River Gem Mine in Sevierville. You can see from the road cairns of “gems” scattered around the main building. The sun makes them shine like diamonds and they are organized by their color. This Indiana Jones wonderland is actually chunks of slag glass that range from 1 to 50 pounds. For $30, my coffee table boasts a luminous aqua marine free-form sculpture that looks like something out of the Smithsonian. Need an unusual gift? Go here. If you want to look at real gems they have those too. Are you an art student or taking one of those weekend photography classes to break in your new Nikon? The light is pretty amazing around four in the afternoon. If you need an unusual gift, this is the place.
What’s so charming about Knoxville? Apparently, the unexpected mash-up of cosmopolitan exotica and damn good biscuits.