Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rich's in Knoxville : The Rich's Series #1

     While it will be a while before much is covered in Tennessee, I want to cover a weird part of retail history that isn't very well known. This is the story of Rich's Knoxville, the odd store that probably shouldn't have happened.

Image result for richs knoxville
Wikimedia photo of the store while in operation.
     The men behind Rich's saw the extreme success of the Atlanta store, and thought they could recreate it in another market. The city named was Knoxville, and that's where the store would be put. To go ahead, Rich's purchased SH George and Sons department store for $2 million in stock.
The 50-year old company wasn't a large behemoth, and it seemed this would be perfect for the new foray. The deal closed on Feb 12, 1954, though the change wasn't immediate. It wasn't until the last day of 1954 that the name became George's-Rich's (sounds oddly familiar) Before that, Rich's announced plans of the closing of the downtown Knoxville George's store, to construct a newer, larger one on the corner of Henley and Locust.

     The building "Store of Tomorrow" was designed by Atlanta's Stevens and Wilkinson and won an AIoA Award of Merit for design. The two structures cost a total of $3.5 million and had 500,000 square feet of room. The other building was a parking structure with capacity large enough for 1,500 cars daily. The main store had a mid-century modern design that included a green-glazed front, with glass on the sides going all top to bottom. Inside the store was the Laurel Room restaurant, a luncheonette, beauty salon, a travel bureau, and more. The store opened in late August 1955, with a literal bomb, courtesy of Oak Ridge.

     Even with the grand opening and excitement, Rich's Knoxville lasted only five years. Towards the end, what partially could have contributed to the store's demise was a sit-in. Students from the HBCU Knoxville College demanded service at the Laurel Room and luncheonette, and the response wasn't great, as one may expect. This changed the picture of the store, and people avoided. And just like that, the store closed at age 5. The store was sold to Miller's, and is now a conference center for the University of Tennessee. 

Image result for richs knoxville
Before - Pinterest

Image result for richs knoxville
And after. Not much has changed. Born and Raised in the South

No comments:

Post a Comment