editorial (2006-47)

It’s Open Season

So why do so many doors remain closed?

It’s Open Season

Ready or not, it’s the holiday season again. The wreaths and banners are on lampposts up and down Gay Street, the big Christmas tree is in Krutch Park, and the skating rink on Market Square, a big success last year, is already frozen at this writing, and scheduled to open Friday.

For years, Christmas downtown was a pro-forma sort of thing. A little plastic tree in the office lobby, a boozy party, and illusions of Christmas trees on tops of buildings. You could always do your holiday shopping downtown, but you had to have indulgent giftees who knew you got them the very best watch, umbrella, or tool set available at J’s Mega Mart, or a meaningful antique World War I helmet from Jackson Avenue.

Christmas, you might have gathered back then, was actually celebrated elsewhere. To be downtown at 5:30 on, say, December 23, in the ’90s, could be suicidally bleak.

But things have picked up in the last several years, and all indications seem to suggest that downtown will be more authentically Christmas-sy than it has been since the ’70s, Maybe longer than that.

Though the movie theater once promised for this holiday season isn’t quite there yet—there are several theories about how those tall cinderblock walls fit into the cineplex blueprint—other things compensate.

The skating rink on Market Square is going to keep people downtown late, as it did last year. It’s open until 10 every night in December, closing only on Christmas Day, and until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Moreover, this will be the first holiday season for downtown’s newest and biggest retailer. It’s a place that seems made for Christmas shopping; we’ve heard there have already been instances of a gift shopper encountering the prospective receiver in the store, and we suspect it won’t be the last time that happens this season.

Mast seems to have very high expectations. According to its website, the Valle Crucis-based chain, which operates several large stores in the Carolinas, is keeping its Knoxville store open longer hours this holiday season than any of their other stores, including those in Asheville and Greenville. Knoxville’s Mast will be open until 9 most nights in December, not counting Sundays, when they close at 6.

Except in the punk and hip-hop clubs, live entertainment tends to thin out some in December. This year it won’t until after the Tennessee Theatre presents the Moscow Ballet’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker , with two shows on Saturday, Dec. 2. With an all-Russian cast, it’s probably the most authentic version of that obligatory holiday classic of the dozens of productions ever presented at the Tennessee. If The Nutcracker sells out this time, at least we’ll know it’s not because all the tickets went to parents and grandparents of the performers.

Market Square was the most festive spot in East Tennessee a century or more ago, and last year; with more retailers on Market Square than we’d seen in years, and skaters in the middle, it was fairly crowded with bescarved ghosts of Christmases past. Ghosts with credit cards.

Last year, though, several downtown businesses didn’t seem to get the memo. A convenience store that closes at 5 and never keeps weekend hours offered no conveniences for holiday shoppers. One chain fast-food place, which has never remained open after 6 in our 20-year memory of the place, was closed for the holidays at their downtown store more than twice as many days as at their suburban locations.

To some downtown entrepreneurs, business still begins and ends with the downtown office worker. They have the right to close when they want to. While several of the newer downtown stores add holiday hours, others actually delete hours, or entire days, during the same holiday season. Usually something about going home to enjoy the holiday with their families. That phrase is designed to allay all concerns. But when you see families choosing not to enjoy the holidays at home, and they’re out skating or shopping or attending a Santa Claus parade, and you see one after another trying a locked door of a familiar sandwich establishment at suppertime, or looking for cough drops at a dark convenience store, well, you just have to wonder. Among other things, why the downtown staffers need more time at home enjoying the holiday with their families than the busy suburban staffers at the mall do.

Metro Pulse has always opposed obligatory opening hours for businesses in certain sections of downtown, a prospect raised by one proposal or another over the years. But just think about it.

We’re reporters. We’ve got to work. There have sometimes been people in this office at midnight on Christmas Eve. It’s not so bad, and we like the company. Give it a try.