The plan for a Walmart near Cumberland Avenue is not the first time the company has looked at downtown. A little over 10 years ago some Walmart executives came to Knoxville at the behest of a local developer. They toured downtown Knoxville and had a lunch discussion that included a city official.
Even that long ago, the retailer's strategic planning included the idea of an "urban store," a departure from the big stores with acres of parking in small towns and suburbs. The executives were polite but it was clear they weren't ready to pursue the downtown department store. The Sterchi Lofts were just coming on line and the downtown housing boom was yet to come.
For the next decade, Walmart concentrated on replacing their big stores with "super centers" and adding groceries. Only in the past two years has the company returned to the urban store concept, with stores in Boston and Chicago. They are built out in many suburbs and small-town locations and they need to compete with Nashville-based Dollar General, one of the fastest growing retailers in America. Dollar General specializes in towns too small for a Walmart and in urban centers.