REI announces plans for Knoxville retail store in 2014

REI announces plans for Knoxville retail store in 2014

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REI logo (source: REI) REI logo (source: REI)
The 23,500 square-foot is to be built at Papermill Plaza, on the northeast corner of Papermill Drive and Kingston Pike. The 23,500 square-foot is to be built at Papermill Plaza, on the northeast corner of Papermill Drive and Kingston Pike.
A large sinkhole opened up in the plaza in 2004 after heavy flooding. (file) A large sinkhole opened up in the plaza in 2004 after heavy flooding. (file)

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - National outdoor retailer REI announced plans Wednesday to construct a store in Knoxville, with an opening planned for the fall of 2014.

The 23,500 square-foot is to be built at Papermill Plaza, on the northeast corner of Papermill Drive and Kingston Pike.

REI sells gear and apparel with a focus on outdoor activities like camping, climbing, cycling, fitness, hiking, paddling and travel.

Currently, the nearest locations for REI stores are Brentwood (Nashville area) and Asheville, N.C.

"Our expertise, programming and products will enhance anyone's trips to explore outdoor places, like Great Smoky Mountains National Park," said Gail Kirkland, REI retail director for the South district, in a statement released Wednesday.

Company officials say about 50 new employees will be hired for the new store. The retailer will begin taking applications next summer.

REI operates as a co-op. Anyone may purchase items at their stores or online, but for a one-time $20 fee members receive a share in profits through an annual member refund.

The company says there are currently nearly 4,000 members in the Knoxville area.

The location of the store is the second national retailer to be announced for the Papermill Plaza shopping center.

A Whole Foods Market was announced for that location in May 2011. When the grocery chain announced plans it said the store was set to open sometime in 2013.

The company says it still intends to come to Knoxville, but those plans are now delayed.

Darrah Horgan, a public relations specialist with Whole Foods, told 6 News the store is slated to open "in the first part of 2015."

Nearby business owners told 6 News the vacant Papermill Plaza has led to less traffic to the area.

"Everyone has been out of there for about two years and we're anxious to see something happen," said Judi Abrams, co-owner of Mill Agent.

Mill Agent is an upholstery store directly across the street from Papermill Plaza.

A large sinkhole opened up in the plaza in 2004 after heavy flooding, causing businesses to move out.

"They rerouted construction around here for months, and then of course businesses moved out and it hadn't been the same really since over there," Abrams said.

Legacy Parks Foundation Executive Director Carol Evans says REI will also help the city as a whole because it reinforces the label of Knoxville as an urban wilderness to attract more tourism.

"They look very carefully at where they go and the fact that they're coming to Knoxville means they think there's a market for outdoor adventure, so we really think it fits with everything we've been doing," Evans said.

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