Despite an economy in doldrums, there's been a lot of activity on the Asheville business scene.
The Grove Arcade-based furniture store Four Corners Home Inc. has acquired the Mobilia furniture store. The Market Place restaurant, an Asheville institution in local food for 30 years, has been sold to a young new owner. Adorn Salon and Boutique is leaving its Lexington Avenue digs for more room on College Street. And the keys to Rosebud Video on Charlotte Street have been handed over to an employee eager to take the reins.
There's no single thread that connects all the action. But all the business people involved hold a passion for their independent ventures. Adorn owner Rebecca Hecht may have summed it up best: "I think I'm most excited about all the possibilities of expanding our services. I think this is everything I've ever wanted my business to be."
The Market Place
It has always come down to one thing for chef Mark Rosenstein — flavor.
Whether he was walking area farms for the freshest greens or gutting trout fished from a local pond, the goal for Rosenstein remained the same: serve the tastiest fare possible. What followed simply followed.
"I'm not out to save the world," Rosenstein says. But if his passion for providing flavorful food has led him to other noble endeavors — focusing on seasonal foods, building local networks of providers, nurturing the environment and bringing people together to sit down and break bread — then all the better.
On Sept. 1 Rosenstein finalized the sale of his business to new owner William Dissen, a 30-year-old chef and restauranteur with an impressive resume who moved to Asheville from South Carolina. Rosenstein will continue to be involved in the restaurant, but he says it's time for a change.
The 57-year-old Rosenstein had been contemplating selling the restaurant for some time. One recent factor moved him to take action — he suffered a stroke in May and had carotid surgery to remove a plaque blockage.
"The fact of the matter is, I've lost a step or two," he says. "I love what I do, but I've started to hit burn-out a couple of times. I've reinvented myself a couple of times. It was time."
Food has been the core of Rosenstein's life for 38 years as a restaurant owner, with 30 of those years devoted to The Market Place. Along the way, Rosenstein built the foundation for many of the local farm-to-table connections in place today. Rosenstein came to Asheville in 1979, opening up on Market Street. He moved to his Wall Street location in 1990.
What's next? In terms of the restaurant, Rosenstein hopes to see it focus on "accessibility to the next generation of diners, but with absolutely no compromise on the artistry, craftsmanship and level of service." Personally, he foresees a deeper involvement with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and its respected culinary program, and continued dedication to the non-profit Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Program and its focus on promoting local food.
For his part, Dissen just wants to keep building on The Marketplace's success.
"I'm just coming in and picking up where Mark left off," Dissen says. "I want to maintain the high standards, while giving it my own touch."
The owners of Four Corners Home Inc., which has a store in the Grove Arcade, saw Mobilia as a natural fit for their thriving, locally owned business. So when Michael Forde and William Griffin had the chance to acquire Mobilia, they jumped at it.
"When we first started looking at the Mobilia store, we were just focusing on the location," says Griffin. "But then as we got into it, we said, 'Wait a minute, this is an ongoing concern that has a strong following from both locals and tourists, and it has a great reputation in the community as far as working with arts organizations and local charities,'" he says. "So we decided why not operate it as a brand of Four Corners."
Architect Cynthia Turner opened Mobilia in 2003 at 43 Haywood Street in the Smith Carrier Building. The building, once home to a JC Penney department store, had been renovated by downtown developer Public Interest Projects, which eventually bought the business. Early this year, Four Corners Home and Public Interest Projects started talking about an acquisition, and the two sides came to an agreement. Four Corners took possession of the business on June 15, closed the store for about 30 days to re-merchandise it, and then opened back up.
"Four Corners Home possesses both strong retail experience, and a complementary design aesthetic, and their acquisition of Mobilia creates natural economies of scale," Pat Whalen, president of Public Interest Projects, says in a news release. "It will be good for the businesses and great for everyone in Asheville who values good design."
Griffin says Mobilia will retain its niche in offering contemporary home furnishings, "but our gifts and accessories will be fresh and fun, appealing to everyone, regardless of their style preferences in furniture." Four Corners skews "a little more earthy and organic." Both stores will continue to offer design services and home staging.
The idea is to build a strong local following while also attracting tourists, says Griffin.
"We started looking at the statistics of what people do when they travel, and the number one activity is they shop," Griffin says. "We're just giving them another place to shop."
Rebecca Hecht couldn't be more excited about Adorn Salon and Boutique's upcoming move from Lexington Avenue to College Street.
"I think I'm most excited about all the possibilities and about expanding our services," says Hecht, Adorn's owner. "I want it to continue to be a place of rejuvenation and revival for people who work hard for their money. I want it to continue to be the place to go for a really quality experience in a relaxing, non-pretentious environment."
Adorn has been at its Lexington Avenue location for seven years, and Hecht is a founding member of the Lexington Avenue Merchants Association. She says she'll miss eclectic Lex, but she'll still be just one block away and plans to stay involved with the association, noting that she's working on a "buy local" campaign with area merchants. Adorn is moving because the building they're in recently went up for sale, Hecht says.
The new location, in the space next to Tops for Shoes formerly occupied by the Enviro Depot toy store, will include a refinishing of the original 1920s floors using a non-toxic floor finish made by Earthpaint in Asheville. The new space will allow Adorn to add certified organic spa services to its menu, including manicures and pedicures, massage and facials, Hecht says. The salon will carry Intelligent Nutrients products, a new line of hair, skin-care and other products started by the creator of Aveda products, Hecht says.
Hecht is also excited about the addition of a clothing line specifically designed for Adorn by local designer Brooke Priddy of Ship to Shore. "It's a very small line, but it's exclusive to us," Hecht says.
The salon should be open by October, Hecht says.
Alan H. Berger and Leslie H. Armstrong sold what they say is the oldest video store in Asheville, Rosebud Video on Charlotte Street, to an employee on Sept. 1.
The couple, who have owned the store for about four-and-a-half years, knew when they took over the store that they'd be ready to move on in three to five years, Armstrong says. Now's the time.
"We're going to take a break," Armstrong says, "but we're going to stay in Asheville and stay with something that definitely fuels our passion."
That passion includes community activism and advocacy for animal rights, both of which are on display at Rosebud. The store has hosted campaign events for Asheville City Council candidates Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith. And the shop has a special selection of videos featuring animal-rights issues offered at a discount. With its eclectic mix of classic, independent, LGBT and foreign films, the store strives to offer movies not found anywhere else.
New owner Devin Waters, a 24-year-old graduate of Warren Wilson College, says she's looking forward to building on the store's firm foundation.
"It seemed like a good opportunity to be involved in a small business … because the store has such a strong customer base and local support," Waters says. "So it's not as risky as starting a business from scratch."
Waters says she won't change much, except add more movies with an environmental bent to the mix.
"I don't want to mess with a good thing."