It’s the end of an era: After 12 years helming the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, founder Franzi Charen is stepping aside. Charen grew the locally-focused economic alliance from 12 independent businesses at its inception in 2009 to over 550.
“I’d love to give the opportunity to somebody else to give it a rebirth,” says Charen. That opportunity is going to Sherree Lucas, who has served on the alliance’s steering committee for two years.
Lucas is the founder of Lucas Strategic Consulting, which draws on her background in marketing consumer goods and health care to advise other businesses. Her family moved from Berkeley, Calif., to Asheville two years ago, and she says she immediately “became very sensitized to how important local business is to the community.” Independent businesses are “part of what makes Asheville so unique,” she adds, and she sees her role with Asheville Grown “to nurture and protect that.”
One program Lucas will continue is the Go Local card. The initiative started when the Asheville City Schools Foundation approached Asheville Grown in 2012 for fundraising help. The foundation had been raising money by selling books of coupons that were primarily for national chains, Charen explains, so Asheville Grown offered an alternative that provided discounts and deals for local businesses.
Half of each $18 Go Local card purchase goes to Asheville City Schools. Asheville Grown has raised over $175,000 for schools since taking over the card program from the foundation in 2015.
Lucas will become director of Asheville Grown on Thursday, July 1. Charen will continue to focus on her clothing boutique, Hip Replacements, and Project Equity, a nonprofit that works to support local business through promoting employee ownership.
Correction, June 10: This piece has been updated to clarify Asheville Grown raised $175,000 for Asheville City Schools, not the Asheville City Schools Foundation.