Sterchi Building (4)

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116 South Gay Street

The Sterchi Building was built in 1925 and was home to its original namesake, Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company. In 1895, James G. Sterchi (1867-1932), son of a Swiss, immigrant farmer, a leader of the Appalachian Exposition of 1910, and a developer of Chilhowee Park, along with his two brothers William H. and J. Calvin, opened a furniture store on Vine Street with capital stock of less than $800. Sterchi Brothers became the first Knoxville-based company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1946.

This building is at least the fourth home for the company’s flagship store in Knoxville. After Vine Street, Sterchi moved to 412–414 S. Gay Street, the block later destroyed by the “Million Dollar Fire” of 1897, then to The Emporium Building. The business continued to grow, and Sterchi commissioned the Knoxville architecture team of R.F. Graf & Sons to design a new headquarters. At the time Sterchi moved into this building in the 1920s, it was a multi-state chain of more than 60 stores and claimed to be the biggest furniture company in the world. It remained in business at this site until 1982. In 2002, the building was renovated and converted into loft apartments.

Sterchi played an important role in the pre-Nashville development of country music. The business sold phonographs, which before 1920 were used mainly by music aficionados and opera, gospel, and marching-band fans. Sterchi had the idea to expand that market for phonographs to working-class people by recording folk music. He sponsored many Southern musicians (not just Knoxvillians, but Uncle Dave Macon and others) to go to New York to make some of the first-known country music recordings. This interest in country music also got Sterchi involved with WNOX, Knoxville’s first radio station. WNOX’s radio studio was located in the Sterchi Building’s basement.

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