Fizz Boutique's window displays in Market Square have been luring in customers since its opening in early September with an eclectic mix of items: purses made of recycled computer keyboards or aluminum pull-tabs, greeting cards in the form of tiny boxes staging small figurines who wish the receiver a happy birthday, or owner Katherine Rouse's Modern-Medieval heirloom costume jewelry. But the array of window displays that often change by the day are only a tiny representation of all the treasures that can be found in the unique boutique.
Rouse moved to Knoxville in 2008 to root herself in her hometown after working in New York City for 15 years. Although her career thus far has mostly been in the Big Apple, it began in Knoxville. After graduating from Laurel High School, Rouse attended the University of Tennessee and majored in geology. But at age 19 Rouse set her sights on owning her own business, so she left the university and opened her own vintage clothing store, Kate's Cave, on the 100 block of Gay Street. "I was always very driven and I always threw myself into overwhelming waters. I always jumped first and then figured out the details later," says Rouse.
She operated Kate's Cave for just a couple of years before a restless urge for something new stemmed her move to New York in 1995. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology for two years, she teamed up with a girlfriend from Knoxville to start a small business that eventually grew into partnerships with big clothing companies like R&B and Cache. Rouse and her partner designed attire and jewelry for distributors, including bridal tiaras for David's Bridal. Rouse reflects on the days when business was booming—until events, such as Sept. 11 and the blackout that followed, altered the way she had been doing business.
"I just wanted an easier life," she says about her return to Knoxville. Rouse was working in different jewelry stores around town when she realized that just what she needed was "to live out of her own store." She says the process of acquiring the location at 27 Market Square, where Vagabondia used to be, was very quick. Her parents, originally from Kent, England, moved to Knoxville in 1978 because, according to Rouse, they thought "Knoxville was the most beautiful place to live." Their love for Market Square also encouraged Rouse to jump at the opportunity. "My parents were really thrilled to invest in Market Square because they love it down here," she says.
Rouse opened the boutique on Sept. 1 and believes her work ethic can, at times, be her own worst enemy. "I have a lot more grey hair than my brother and he's older than me, but I'm just a mad, furious person. I have a lot of energy," says Rouse. She works 14-15 hours almost every day and considers herself a "crack of dawn-er" but feels more at ease since she has settled more into her shop. "The building process was a lot of work," she says.
Now Rouse's biggest challenge is figuring out how to accommodate the average shopper. "I'm trying to figure out what to buy and what people like. Some things sell great and some other things don't sell as well, so then you learn by that," she says. Rouse has utilized the connections she made while working in New York, as well as ones she has made in Knoxville to stock her shelves with the most intriguing items.
"I buy a lot of things from local designers and small factories so there's a lot of things that are just made by small people doing their own thing, whether they're in Knoxville or somewhere else around the world," says Rouse.
Local items in the store range from hats made from cardboard beer containers and scarves made from recycled cotton, to jewelry crafted by Michele Richards, Billy Owens, and Maggie Tankersley. Fizz also houses unusual pieces of jewelry from around the globe. Rouse says her Coco Loco hand-carved, organic jewelry—made by tribal people all over the world and fashioned out of coconut, hardwoods, seeds, shell, horn, and bone—has been a big hit since her opening. Riverstone jewelry from Northern Thailand, also hand-crafted by tribal people, is made of Hill Tribe silver.
Rouse is also good with keeping up on trends by selling TOKYObay watches, comfortable American Apparel clothing, and the upscale French Connection women's apparel. Along with that, she sells different kinds of cameras, hand-made greeting cards, clever children's games, key-chains and other knickknacks.
Rouse hopes that customers will be pleased with the charm of each items's uniqueness and believes each of her guests "can find something that is rare and made with love and fine craft."