Downtown’s big loss: several stalwarts departing

One of downtown Knoxville’s most familiar sights – lawyer Dennis McCarthy walking his adorable beagle, Lily – is about to be just a memory. Dennis and his wife, Judy, are leaving downtown to move to a farmhouse in Loudon County.

Although they have owned the farmhouse for quite awhile, the McCarthys have lived and worked downtown for 12 years. It was the construction work on Gay Street that finally did them in.

Dennis McCarthy and his beagle, Lily

Dennis McCarthy and his beagle, Lily

“We live on the 100 block,” Judy explained over drinks at Chesapeake’s recently. “I’m trying to write a book. The noise is just constant and I can’t get anything done.”

They are moving to a home that’s been in Judy’s family since 1902. Her great-grandfather built it himself from trees that grew on the property. Dennis calls it a “traditional East Tennessee farmhouse” on four acres of lakefront property.

“We’ll still come back,” Judy said matter-of-factly to four shocked friends who were sitting at the bar slack-jawed by the news.

Earlier this month another downtown die-hard, Andie Ray, owner of the Vagabondia dress shop on Market Square, had calmly broken similar news to guests at a party in her loft, which is located above the shop.

“I’ve always loved gardening,” Andie explained, pointing to the numerous potted plants scattered around her home. She and her husband Noel Hudson, plan to buy a lot in Old North Knoxville and build a house “that fits” – and put in lots of gardens. “I don’t want a lawn,” Andie said. “I want gardens.” She said they are putting a new roof on the Market Square building before putting it on the market, so it may not go up for sale for a few months. She may keep the dress shop, which she’s operated since 2004, if the new owners want to lease it to her. Or she may do something else.

This is all quite jarring to the downtown “regulars” who think nobody in his or her right mind would choose to live anywhere else. We are just getting used to the idea that David Dewhirst, one of the biggest downtown champions ever, would move to a stunning farm in South Knoxville. And that happened years ago.

Andie Ray

Andie Ray

You know how when someone decides to break up with you, they might still stay with you for awhile trying to be nice, but you can just tell they are already gone? Well, that’s how Dennis is. Although he and Judy are still sleeping downtown for a few more days, he’s already moved to Loudon County in his mind. “Global climate change has brought something beautiful to the farm,” he rhapsodized earlier this week. “We’ve got these huge cumulus clouds now that we didn’t used to have. In the evenings, you look around and the world is just spectacular!”

But it’s a friendly break-up, I guess. “Downtown Knoxville is by far the best neighborhood we’ve ever lived in,” he said. “And we’ve lived 20 different places in our married lives. I’m struck by the fact that anytime of the day or night, you can walk on Market Square or Gay Street and you’ll see a neighbor to visit with. The little restaurants and pubs and the brewpub are alive and full of people.”

Dennis predicts that downtown will continue to improve in fits and starts. “There won’t be total progress every day, but it will keep getting better,” he assured.

Robert Loest, who lives in the Pembroke and is an inveterate booster of downtown living, is taking these neighborly losses in stride (at least better than I am). “These things happen with any neighborhood,” he said. “People come and go. They have legitimate reasons.”

“But I told Dennis and Judy I would only let them leave under one condition,” he added with a grin. “They have to invite me to a party at their farm at least once a year.”

Farewell, pals.

7 Responses to “Downtown’s big loss: several stalwarts departing”

  1. Any one who has the guts to raise a beagle in a loft is a huge loss to the downtown ambience. That takes courage.

  2. Sadly, the staff of Knoxville Magazine and skirt! Magazine are also no longer among the synergy of downtown. We’ve moved back to the “big house,” which means I’ll need an extra 15 minutes, Cynthia, for lunch or cocktail plans. :) I’ll miss the connection. It’s a great place to hang your hat by day and/or night and agree there is still a slow push forward and I’ll continue to enjoy all our downtown has to offer.

  3. Changes are always sad, I think. Andie has plans to keep the store, if the new owner will lease her the space, that is WHEN the building sells. It may take a while to sell in the current real estate climate. Market Square would be weird without Vagabondia, I think!

    BTW, we still have new stuff coming in daily!

  4. Change really does live up to its name. What isn’t here is how much Andie Ray and the McCarthy’s contributed to the LAUNCH of downtown. LIke founding parents, they create and then they move on. There are less visable Knoxvillians who were major forces in downtown revival that now find themselves in the suburbs of Knoxville, Oak Ridge and even the five “towns” that make up New York City. What clearly is in place is worth celebrating, and I am sure like the rest of us who watched a ghost town come alive again, it will be excellent to visit and see it all thrive with different faces. Though, yes, I agree it really is sad to know that familiar isn’t just around the corner or walking his or her dog. Though, Manhattan on the Upper East Side is catching Market Square fever. Kelly is around the corner from me on E.96th Street. We keep running into each other randomly. (Very unheard of in this city.) One night, I said something about Market Square “happenings” and said she will explain it to her companion standing next to her husband. Turns out, he is a former server from Tomato Head and lives in Brooklyn! Whenever I see a blonde woman in a hat walking by, well, I am not always so sure it won’t be Miss Downtown Ray. Yes, I agree, though, the heartbreak of change is also its reminder there is something special going on.

  5. Interesting news on both these couples. It does make one wonder if, after years of “closeness” to other people, one develops a longing for space. Yes, there is always something going out right outside your door and perhaps that becomes wearing after awhile. I don’t know; haven’t tried it, though I have always thought I’d like it.

  6. Definitely food for thought. I’ve always fantasized about having a downtown loft, once my nest is empty. I love the restaurants, the shops, the entertainment and the general downtown vibe. And, of course, I have fond memories of Watson’s on Market Square back in the day. I don’t understand the constant construction, and I don’t enjoy the motley throngs that turn out for the Big Events. Will be watching further developments with a vested interest.

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