Thursday, April 24, 2014 · 1:08 p.m.

Blacksmith's "perfect storm" led to closure

Leaders say more downtown residents needed to sustain businesses

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The sudden closure of downtown eatery and bar Blacksmith's was the result of a "perfect storm" of problems, general manager Kelly Smith said. 

"We are owners-operators and don't have a ton of money behind us," she said. 

At nearly $6,000 a month, the rent was difficult to sustain; the space needed more initial investment than expected; owners got behind on taxes; and they had problems with employee theft, she also said. 

"It snowballed out of control in a week," she said. 

The leasing agent for the property and landlord couldn't be reached Thursday for more information about the future of the property.

Blacksmith's moved from St. Elmo to the 809 Market St. location, which had been home to Market Street Tavern.

Before Market Street Tavern was at 809 Market St., it was across the street, where Community Pie is currently located. 

Owners of Fork & Pie Bar, which was next door to Blacksmith's at 811 Market St., announced at the beginning of November that they were closing their storefront to focus on other ventures. 

And a cigar bar that had been planned for 807 Market St.—which is on the other side of the former Blacksmith's location—is on hold for the moment. Now, leaders are looking to lease that space, leaders with downtown economic development nonprofit River City Company said

President of River City Company Kim White said that the recent closures of businesses in the 800 block reinforce what city officials learned from a recent study and a separate three-day design charrette

River City leaders plan to release full results from the study at the beginning of next year, White said. 

But one of the main takeaways from recent studies and discussions is that downtown needs more people who live there.

"It's not enough to have 55,000 workers," she said. "To have a really vibrant City Center, you've got to have people living there."

White said she hopes that a deal to add apartments to the Chattanooga Bank Building, which is at Market and Eighth streets, will be ready to announce soon. That would add about 185 beds to the downtown area. 

And River City leaders also have plans in the works to create housing at the 700 block of Market Street. 

Parking is another issue for downtown, she said. 

"We do have parking, but not strategic parking," she said. 

Some people have questioned why Blacksmith's moved from St. Elmo. Smith said that the owners of 1885 Grill, which is the restaurant that is currently in that location, agreed to put a lot of money into that space. 

Blacksmith's owners Kelly and George Blackwell "Blacky" Smith didn't have as much money to invest, so it essentially forced them to move, Kelly said Thursday. 

Smith agreed that getting more people downtown might help businesses.

Blacksmith's was slightly out of the price range of most college students, she said.

And she said that there are currently too many restaurants competing for a relatively small group of customers with expendable income. 

"This area just isn't there yet," she said. 

Smith said she and Blackwell are looking for jobs now and that they wanted to thank customers for their support. Maybe there is another business venture in their future, but not right now, she said.

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