Business Notepad

Down on Main Street

Some folks have likened the charming little town of Weaverville to “a small Black Mountain.” A whole lot has been happening there recently, with new shops opening up and others moving to new locations. In conjunction with the upcoming Weaverville Art Safari (April 27-28, see Smart Bets elsewhere in this issue), we decided to check in with some of the local business owners.

Our first stop is If It’s Special Gift Shop (62 N. Main St.), owned by Doug Dennison. In business since 1989 and at its present location since ’91, the store offers fine jewelry and a variety of gifts such as gourmet food, fine English china, gift baskets, candles, soaps, lotions and more. Housed in the former First Union Bank building, the shop is a collection of cozy rooms and cubbyholes, including the old vault and drive-through area. Dennison’s daughter (too shy to give me her name) tells me about a notorious bank robbery that happened here: The bank manager ended up tied to a tree in a nearby cemetery and the robber was on America’s Most Wanted after twice escaping capture.

Across the street stands the oldest commercial building still in use in WNC. Built in the early 19th century to house the Vandiver Feed & Seed Store, it was moved from the original site (a few blocks away) to its present location in the late 1800s. The building went through many incarnations (serving as a tea room, a post office, a low-wattage TV station and a hardware store) before ending up in disrepair. Four years ago, Ivo Vallentine and Robin Cape renovated and expanded the structure, which they now lease out to the following three businesses.

Asheville Pizza Company (55C N. Main St.), a satellite of Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co., opened last July and is co-owned and managed by Lisa LeokumBilly Brooks. The menu of hand-tossed pizza, subs, pasta and salad is “vegetarian-friendly,” Leokum explains, and the pizzas boast such “cool toppings” as cilantro, portabello mushrooms, artichoke hearts and Cajun chicken. Entertainment is also part of the program: a Mountain Music Jam on Tuesdays, and the Blue Thursday Blues Jam hosted by Chuck Beattie (a.k.a. Dr. Blues). “It’s nice to mix a music venue with a family-friendly atmosphere and make it all work,” notes Leokum.

Next door, Preservation Hall (55B N. Main St.) has some new owners, Darcy and Capri Willis. Vallentine and Cape started the business in Asheville in the late ’80s and moved it north when they bought the building four years ago. The shop specializes in salvaged architectural antiques and materials from old houses and commercial buildings. They’re expanding their vast inventory of antique doors, mantels, windows, decorative iron, plumbing fixtures (such as sinks and clawfoot tubs) to include restored and ready-to-use vintage lighting and antique stained glass. They’ve also added a gallery space to their three-story outfit which will include local folk art and “reborn” art (made from recycled metal and wood.) The store, explains Darcy, sees three kinds of clients: “Those who are renovating old houses; those who are building new homes but want to incorporate some character by putting old things into it; and those using [antique features] as decorative items — turning an old door into a headboard or the front of a bar.”

The Book Lady (55A N. Main St.), open a year come June, is a “neighborhood bookstore with gently used paperbacks … for people who love to read [and] poke around,” explains owner Linda French. To keep those eager readers coming back, French says she tries “to keep as many books coming in as going out.” The store carries everything from metaphysical, inspirational and self-help books to Westerns, science fiction and children’s stories, with many headings subdivided into even finer distinctions. Romances, for example, are grouped under “historical romance,” “inspirational romance,” “romantic suspense” and just plain old “romance,” and the suspense novels are filed under “thriller,” “mystery” and “military & espionage.”

Back across the street again, Shope Furniture (31 N. Main St.) has a sale in progress, reports owner Scott A. Shope. Opened in the 1930s by his grandparents, the business began as a little mom-and-pop grocery store before evolving into a retail furniture store in 1946, Shope explains. The store now boasts two floors, with 18,000 square feet of display space for furniture and mattresses. This building, too, housed the local post office (which seems to have had various avatars all around town) at one point, says Shope, and he can remember hearing about the trolley car that traveled up from Asheville nearly a century ago before turning around in Weaverville and heading back.

Bell Studios (26 N. Main St.) opened this past October in the old drugstore building (built in 1928). Owned by Karlene Bell, the shop specializes in all kinds of custom-made, decorative glass (such as stained, beveled and carved) for homes, businesses and churches. After working from home for the past 12 years, Bell felt she needed more space; since moving, she explains, she has “gotten some nice big jobs.” The store showcases examples of Bell’s work as well as blown-glass pieces by Michael Hatch and hand-carved wooden boxes by Bell’s husband, Phil Bell. Glass crafters and hobbyists can also find supplies here.

Across the road, Brown’s Floral Design (25 N. Main St.), the oldest flower shop in Weaverville (in business since the ’50s and originally located under the West Funeral Home), found a new owner, Pam Abernathy, a year-and-a-half ago. The store’s unique style and their willingness to work with customers is what sets them apart from more traditional flower shops, explains manager Karen Boudreau, who has 24 years’ experience in the field. The store offers flower, silk flower and plant arrangements, daily delivery, photo shoots during prom season, and is expanding into doing more functions and outdoor events with an emphasis on weddings, she explains.

The Sunnyside Cafe (18 N. Main St.) — housed in a building that was once a five-and-dime — serves up food that is “American continental with a California flair,” explains Patty Keeran who opened the restaurant a year-and-a-half ago with her husband, Jack, a certified executive chef. Everything, says Patty, is made to order from the freshest ingredients, from the soup and salsa to the bread and ice cream. The menu changes every six months, and pastry chef Zoe Davis produces such tempting deserts as fresh strawberry tart, lemon icebox pie and chocolate raspberry-swirl cheesecake. Patty would like to dispel the myth that the Sunnyside is “the fancy place” in Weaverville. “We’re a lot more casual than that,” she stresses. “We want people to feel comfortable in a pair of shorts or a suit … [ordering] nachos and beer or duck and wine.”

Next door, Mangum Pottery (16 N. Main St.) occupies a building that once served as the public library. Owners Beth and Rob Mangum have been at that location for five years; the business has been around since 1976. Rob’s parents are potters in Spartanburg, and Rob launched his own offshoot 14 years ago in Raleigh. The store showcases thrown-pottery pieces (such as coffee mugs and dinnerware), both custom designs and the standard Mangum family design (a signature multiglaze pattern developed by Rob’s parents). Some items (such as vases, tables and garden benches) are made from hand-formed slabs of clay; there are also mixed-media pieces (such as a huge grandfather clock made of wood and ceramic, and a banjo made from a walnut branch, ceramic bowel, goatskin head and handcrafted ebony tuning pegs).

A couple of doors down, a new business is incubating: Birdies (12 N. Main St.) is due to hatch July 1. Owned by Sheila Dunn, it will encompass “anything to do with birds and nature,” explains property manager Cindy Dinahoo. Imagine a cornucopia of antique and locally designed bird cages, a variety of gardening items, an information center with bird books, videos and on-line access, surround-sound recordings of birds and a floor designed to look like the earth, and you’ll begin to get an idea of what this store aspires to be. Built in the early 1900s, the historic structure was home to the old Bank of Weaverville (until it closed during the Great Depression) and then served as the town hall. The still-intact bank vault, explains Dinahoo, will be known as “the nut house,” where customers can buy birdseed in bulk out of bins.

Back across the street, the Weaverville Drug Company (3 N. Main St.) recently moved into the old post-office building; the business had been at its original location, about a block away, since 1928. Owned by Chuck Sprinkle, the drugstore boasts a pharmacy, a CP&L counter where locals can pay their electric bills, and an old-fashioned soda fountain where you can munch on a sandwich or sip a milkshake, float or cappuccino while watching the traffic go by. There’s been a noticeable increase in business since the move, says pharmacy technician Pam Kline.

Art Accents (1 S. Main St.), a frame shop and art gallery owned by Robert and Carla Mitchell, has been business for nearly nine years now. Besides doing custom framing and selling wholesale matting for local artists, the store also showcases diverse art, including Robert’s own landscape photography, prints of local watercolor scenes by Anne Vasilik, whimsical cat paintings by Elizabeth McAfee, and work by quadriplegic artist Marcus Thomas. The building, Carla tells me, was once a boardinghouse for “young ladies.”

And finally, as of this month, the Weaverville Pizzeria (5 S. Main St.) is under new ownership. Sisters Maria De Souza and Arlette Varela have taken over the reins from their good friends and neighbors the Evangelous family, whom De Souza explains were “getting older.” They plan to continue the Evangelous’ tradition of “hard work and quality,” offering staples such as pizza, subs, spaghetti, lasagna and salad. Besides an increased focus on to-go orders, the only real difference, says De Souza, “is the owner is a woman!” She invites the community to come in and meet them.

Weaverville is about seven miles north of Asheville. Take Hwy. 19/23 North to the Weaverville/Marshall exit, turn right onto Weaverville Boulevard, go about a half-mile to the second light, and turn right onto Main Street. For more information, contact individual businesses at the following numbers: If It’s Special Gift Shop (658-0844); Asheville Pizza Co. (658-8778); Preservation Hall (645-1047); The Book Lady (658-3973); Shope Furniture (645-3091); Bell Studios (658-0558); Brown’s Floral Design (645-6544); Sunnyside Cafe (658-2660); Mangum Pottery (645-4929); Weaverville Drug Co. (645-3087); Art Accents (658-9133); and Weaverville Pizzeria (645-3243).

Expo spotlights Asheville-area businesses

Businesses and organizations wishing to enhance their public profile are invited to display their products and services at the 11th annual “Asheville Area Business & Lifestyle Expo: Inspiring New Ways to Think About Work and Play,” coming to the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday May 11. According to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the Expo, this year’s event promises to be the biggest of its kind in Western North Carolina.

“Imagine an event that focuses on all aspects of our lives, both professional and personal, as well as showcasing new innovations and entertainment,” says Jane Anderson, vice president of member services at the Chamber. “Add guest speakers, local sports stars and opportunities for education, and you begin to get an idea of what this year’s Expo will encompass.”

More than 150 exhibitors will be represented. There will also be 12 free mini-seminars, including “Mark’s Ten Commandments for the Small Start-up Manufacturer” (featuring Mark Goldberg of Plasticard Locktech international), “A Positive Future in the Hospitality Industry” (presented by Michael Wright of the Renaissance Asheville Hotel), and “Investing in Today’s World” (with Bill Mullen of A.G. Edwards & Sons). Among the host of notables on hand for the Celebrity Showcase will be Annette Kamm, the top-ranking female bicyclist in the U.S., and two-time world bobsled champion (and Olympic silver medalist) James Atkinson. “Asheville Assets” will showcase 25 organizations that are making a difference in our community. The event will also feature music, craft and sport demos, free gifts and raffles.

For exhibitors, says the Chamber, it’s a chance to highlight new business opportunities, enhance their company’s profile, make cost-effective presentations, foster new relationships and launch new products and services.

The biggest change this year, explains Georgia Malki, of Seven-Star (which is producing the event), “is the expansion of our focus outside of the business realm. This year’s event will give attendees an overview of what makes the Asheville area such a dynamic place to live.

Expo partners include News Channel 13-WLOS, the Asheville Citizen-Times, Clear Channel Asheville, Biltmore Press, FASTSIGNS and Fairway Outdoor Advertising. Sponsors include Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care, First Citizens Bank, SunCom, Yellow Book USA and Arby’s.

To exhibit in the Expo, or for more information, call Malki at 236-3327 or visit the Expo’s Web site (www.AshevilleEvents.com).

Buncombe avoids massive layoffs

An analysis by the Community Research Center shows that the Asheville-Buncombe area weathered the recent economic downturn far better than most of the state’s population centers.

Using the N.C. Employment Security Commission’s data base, the Center tallied announced layoffs and closings in 2001 for the state as a whole and for the 10 most populous counties. In each area, layoffs and closings were divided into the previous year’s total employment; the resulting figure roughly represents the percentage of employees who faced a closing or layoff.

Statewide, about 1.7 percent of all private employees (64,282 workers) faced a layoff or closing. For Buncombe County, the figure was only about 0.8 percent (887 workers), making Buncombe one of only three N.C. counties among the 10 most populous with rates below 1 percent. Among the hardest-hit large counties were Durham (3.2 percent of employees affected), Wake and Gaston (each with 2.7 percent). In Mecklenburg, the state’s largest county, 1.3 percent of employees were affected.

The CRC, a service of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, provides economic data and market analyses to businesses and citizens. Information on layoffs and closings is taken from a statewide survey of newspapers and from information supplied directly to the Employment Security Commission. Typically, smaller businesses do not announce such moves, which therefore would not be reflected in these figures.

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