It was spring 1958, and West Knoxville was buzzing about the brand-new retail center that White Stores was building on the north side of Kingston Pike, just east of Northshore Drive. It would be as modern as the 2-year-old Kingston Pike Center, a mile and a half up the road, but with even more shops and more parking.
When Bearden Center opened that May, it featured a 15,000-square-foot White Stores grocery (where a Food City is now) and a Whiteway, the chain’s spinoff variety store.
Equally as intriguing were the smaller establishments, most locally founded and operated, that were signed on to fill the rest of the center. There was favorite jeweler Bowen’s; the Master and Missy Shop, catering to the clothes-conscious kiddie set; Wade’s Bakery, famous for its thumbprint cookies; and Wynell’s Dress and Specialty Shop, a fashionable boutique owned by the late Wynell Golden and her family.
Nancy Lynn Fashions joined later, as did Crenshaw Children’s Shop, which is still there. The center originally included a second location of Long’s Drug Store (the first was established at Kingston Pike Center in 1956), but after the death of owner Clarence Long in 1966, the family limited its interest to the main location, and the fountain drugstore at Bearden Center became Henderson’s.
Of the original shops, Coffin Shoe Co. remains. Jim Coffin’s father had a shoe store downtown, established in the 1920s, and the younger Coffin “went west.” Inside the store, which is now operated by Jim Coffin’s son, Park, clips of Bearden history and stories about Knoxville history and personalities are dotted around the displays of favorite shoe brands. There’s a poster-board highlighting news stories about Bearden Center, and there’s a tidy stack of older Bearden High School annuals.
It isn’t the only store the family has had over the years, but the one in Bearden is special, says Coffin. Reached by phone at his home, the 92-year-old entrepreneur says the center has been good to his business.
“We miss some of the original people who were there,” Coffin says. To him, it hardly seems that any time has passed since he was the parent of small children who were mopping the shopping center vestibule and washing the store windows before school. “Of course, they claimed child abuse,” he says.