Asheville’s ‘wellness block’ creates synergistic community

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Sunny and Stephanie Keach brought the Asheville Yoga Center to South Liberty Street almost 15 years ago, helping create the "wellness block." Photo by Emily Nichols

There are few places where a yoga center, raw-foods cafe, herbal apothecary, martial-arts studio and vegetable garden line a single neighborhood street. But Asheville’s health-oriented community has created the “wellness block” on South Liberty Street. Located near downtown, it’s tucked away from Merrimon Avenue traffic and anchored by The Asheville Yoga Center. The block is a unique model for wellness-fueled community development.

‘No mud, no lotus’

Fourteen years ago, Sunny and Stephanie Keach took their chances on South Liberty, where empty bottles of alcohol and drug needles regularly littered the doorsteps of the art deco, brick building they had chosen for their small studio, The Asheville Yoga Center.

Sunny Keach recalls that the block “was definitely a neglected and unpolished gem in those days.” Cars were often broken into, people relieved themselves near the trash cans behind the studio, and graffiti embellished the outside of the building, he says.

Nonetheless, the couple were determined to create “a refined, yoga-specific setting that would attract better teachers.” So they went for it. “Every dime we owned and could borrow at the time went into the renovation,” says Keach.

By 2010 the business had taken off but was outgrowing the space. Two years later, a few doors down on South Liberty, the Keaches opened an additional space that could accommodate more classes, trainings and events. The expansion in yoga offerings, as well as the availability of free parking and proximity to downtown, notably increased traffic to the area.

Another 2012 shift came when Robert Glasgow bought the old brick structure that housed AYC’s original studio. Former owner of the The Beaufort House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast a few blocks away, he recalls feeling uneasy and a little scared when he checked the upstairs apartments in the building. “Everything reeked of smoke,” he recalls. And Glasgow suspected that most of the alcohol and drug use was happening above the shop.

He renovated, aiming to draw a new tide of tenants and businesses to the block.

“I advertised as ‘Apartments above Yoga Studio,’ and that brought in like-minded people, yogis and individuals who were interested in a wellness lifestyle,” Glasgow says.

Since the makeover, Silver Leaf Natural Medicine and Elements Real Food have come to the block. Glasgow met Elements (and Roaming in the Raw food truck) owners Zach Bier and Jenni Squires at a local farmers’ market. “I liked them right away, and I wanted juice on the street,” he says.

Glasgow welcomed their food truck in the pocket park on Liberty, which provided the opportunity “to test the waters and start building relationships with many of our current customers,” says Biers.

Circle of health

These days, South Liberty Street thrives. Students walk to and from yoga class, lugging their sticky mats. Acupuncturists blend tea at the Chinese apothecary. People get their hair cut at the salon. Friends sit at picnic tables and sip brightly colored juices. Vegetable gardens spill plump tomatoes onto the street. Often, a badminton game gets underway in the small green space.

The wellness bug has spread into neighboring Central Avenue, Orange Street and Chestnut Street, too. Massage therapists, ayurvedic practitioners, herbalists and counselors hang their placards beside legal offices and nonprofit agencies. Spas and meditation centers dot the neighorhood as well.

Is it possible that yoga could have been the catalyst in creating this wellness neighborhood? Or at least a factor?

Evan Bussanich, who owns Silver Leaf, has been running his business on Liberty Street for three years. He recalls being drawn by the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown, the art deco style of the main building and the yoga center.

Health-oriented shops have definitely expanded, with a lot of healthy overlap, says Bussanich. “Alex teaches yoga, Marcie takes her daughter to martial arts, and we love to have lunch at Elements,” he says.

The cafe has definitely been aided by the surrounding businesses, says Bier, “especially the yoga center, because our target audience is already coming to our street for more reasons than just our business,” he says.

“Liberty Street [was] the perfect place for a healthy food business [like ours], because the people who desire [our] type of food are already coming for yoga, acupuncture and nearby spas like Still Point Wellness,” says Biers. “And even people at nearby Greenlife and Trader Joe’s are hearing about [us] because of the circle of health [we] are geographically situated in.”

The circle of health also illustrates the positive impact businesses can have on a community. “If every street had this abundance of healthy food and like minds, that powerfully positive force would help shape communities for the better,” says Bier.

 

New kids on the block

Teah Boswell owns Well Fit, an indoor cycling studio set to take over the yoga center’s old donation space. “Finding this location was a huge deal,” she says. “AYC has made the space a landmark in the yoga and fitness community, which is a great omen for our business,” Boswell adds.

She plans to offer classes geared toward general fitness as well as race training. “We will also offer TRX [suspension system] strength and conditioning, strength-training circuit classes, small-group training classes for older adults and ‘MetaZone,’ an ayurvedic system that boosts power and endurance and produces an incredible in-the-zone experience,” she says.

“Liberty Street has the feel of an intentional community,” says Boswell. She adds that she hopes the addition of a cycling studio will complement the other wellness offerings on the block.

By early next year, Dylan Glasgow, son of Liberty building owner Robert Glasgow, plans to open The Liberty House Coffee and Cafe — in the appropriately espresso-colored house next to the Asheville Yoga Center. The younger Glasgow, who grew up in the neighborhood, says he always envisioned opening a coffee shop but never imagined it would be “in his ‘hood.”

The house has been permitted, and renovations are underway.

“It is my goal to fit the neighborhood,” Dylan Glasgow says. “Everyone who comes to this neighborhood says they love this street. It has a good feeling to it. The people are blissed out from yoga, and all the business owners are like a little family.”

The new coffeehouse will provide a very comfortable setting with high quality food and coffee from a North Carolina provider — Counter Culture, says Glasgow. The food, he says, will be up to the standards of local foodies, with a simple, local, organic menu and a big selection of distinct baked goods, such as quinoa berry scones and zucchini pineapple muffins. Many of the recipes he’ll be using are his mother’s special concoctions from her time as Beaufort House co-owner.

Yogi power

The wellness block will also be seeing more yoga-accelerated growth this year: AYC will unfold its third expansion this fall. Located around the corner at 62 Orange St. in space that once housed the FemCare clinic, the new site will connect to the Liberty studio via a walkway featuring edible landscaping.

Keach says the new location will become the home base for yoga trainings and events, while all daily yoga classes remain at 211 Liberty St., and Well Fit takes over the old studio. The new space will also host more trainings for yoga teachers.

The Keaches say they hope to develop an Asheville equivalent to major American retreat centers like Omega, Esalen and Kripalu. The ultimate vision, says Keach, is to create “a yoga campus, a center for higher education devoted to knowing oneself and interacting more fully and beneficially in the world.”

Dylan Glasgow, meanwhile, sums up the wellness block with this observation: “It’s really unique, one of a kind, to find all these businesses committed to wellness side by side; there really is a synergy going on here.”

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About Emily Nichols
Emily Nichols is a writer and photographer for the Mountain Xpress. She enjoys writing about wellness and spirituality in WNC.

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