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VOL. 126 | NO. 159 | Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yosemite Sam’s Set to Close, Sell to Loeb

By Bill Dries

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Yosemite Sam’s, the longest-running existing business in Overton Square, will close Aug. 27, according to the owner, Faye Pannell.

“Next year will be 40 years. I’m getting a little bit too old for it,” Pannell said. “And Loeb wanted to buy it.”

Loeb Properties Inc. is redeveloping the south side of the entertainment district and a spokesman confirmed the company is buying the property on the north side of the district, which would give it control of three of the four corners of the Madison Avenue-Cooper Street intersection.

Yosemite Sam’s in on the north side of Madison Avenue at the corner of Cooper Street.

The bar, at 2126 Madison Ave., has been both a disco and a karaoke bar, as well as restaurant from 1972 on.

The entertainment district opened in late 1970 following the passage of liquor by the drink in a November 1969 referendum vote and the opening of the T.G.I. Friday’s bar and restaurant as the cornerstone of the business enterprise.

Yosemite Sam’s was one of the businesses that followed, replacing hardware stores, florists and bakeries that had been the mainstays of a more traditional retail community.

With a brightly colored logo of the namesake cartoon character as a constant, the bar symbolized the new era of early 1970s entrepreneurship in the square as well as the Highland strip near the University of Memphis campus. The colors were bright and the symbols appropriated from everyday life and adapted.

The bar set up shop in the two-story structure built in 1912, according to records from the Shelby County Assessor’s office.

Yosemite Sam’s sometimes featured live entertainment, but was best known as a disco that in the 1970s was a favorite of servicemen stationed at the Naval Air Station Memphis (now Naval Support Activity Mid-South) in Millington. In its later years, it shifted identities to become a karaoke bar.

“We’ve had everything. We’ve seen some characters,” Pannell said. “If we could rob the graveyard and bring back all of my old customers, we’d have a mini pub crawl with all of them that I’ve known over the years.”

The second floor of the building was for a brief time a separate nightclub known as The Hot Air Balloon.

“I contacted James Rasberry, who was originally in the property leasing down here, and he had contacted me several years ago about the property. I told him anytime I thought I was ready to sell, I would call him,” Pannell said. “He contacted Loeb and we went from there.”

As for the other areas at Madison and Cooper that Loeb owns, the southwest corner is one of two parcels on which Loeb intends to keep a row of shops, add a parking garage and build a supermarket that would front Cooper.

The old French Quarter Suites Hotel on the northeast corner, 2144 Madison Ave., is owned by FQI LLC of Memphis. The hotel was built in 1984 as part of a long-hoped-for development of a hotel in the square. The 105-room multi story hotel closed in 2008 and has been vacant since with a chain-link fence around the property.

PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704