Business Notepad

Biltmore Village — the 12-square-block historic district created by George Vanderbilt between 1896 and 1910, just beyond the entrance to Biltmore Estate — has been in the midst of a building boom in recent months. Happily for history buffs, most of the work has involved restoring old buildings or converting newer ones to the village’s original architectural style.

New Morning Gallery, one of the premier arts-and-crafts shops in the South, finished adding 6,500 square feet to the 8,000-square-foot gallery last month, almost doubling it in size. The addition, built over the car park, is true to the post-Vanderbilt-era architectural style of the existing structure.

Meanwhile, over on All Souls Crescent, two buildings have been transformed. A one-story structure with a colonial facade (the home of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Financial Services) has been redesigned by architect Robert Griffin as a two-story building resembling the village’s original cottages — complete with the traditional pebble-dash stucco surface and half-timbered wood trim.

The second building — home to the children’s book, toy and clothing store Once Upon A Time — is doubling its space by wrapping a two-story, 1,800-square-foot addition (which also replicates the historic cottage’s original look) around the structure’s east and north sides.

Another recently completed major project is the rebuilding of the McDowell Street bridge. Exact replicas of the original village streetlights were installed on both sides of the bridge, giving this village gateway a historic flavor.

And to enhance the area’s pedestrian-friendly design, three traffic islands have been installed on Lodge and Brook streets. Strollers can now cross one lane of traffic and then wait in safety until traffic on the other side has cleared. Still to come is landscaping for these islands and a landscaped strip in front of the Hot Shot Cafe and the Melting Pot fondue restaurant on Lodge Street.

But perhaps the most surprising project hasn’t even begun yet. Sometime in the new year, the existing McDonald’s restaurant will be replaced with a new structure that wqill also replicate the village’s pebble-dash, timbered look. Redesigning the restaurant (strategically situated at the northwest-corner entrance to the village) will also help create an appropriate gateway.

The owners of the more than 30 shops, restaurants and galleries that call the village home believe that all this ambitious activity will be good for business, according to Stan Collins of the Biltmore Village Merchants Association. Collins, who also owns Once Upon A Time, explains: “The village has seen good growth, particularly in recent years, because it combines unique products with a historic environment. … People come to shop … but also to experience the historic ambiance.”

Collins also calls attention to some behind-the-scenes changes, particularly the interior redesign of the building that now houses the Melting Pot. “It formerly housed a restaurant called Oscar’s, and originally, it was the Biltmore-Oteen Bank building. That [construction] has been completed also.”

Grove Park Inn wins environmental award

The Grove Park Inn Resort recently won the Foodservice Consultants Society International’s Green Award for innovation in creating environmentally sensitive operations. FCSI cited the resort’s recycling, energy-conservation and waste-reduction programs, which have diverted 3.25 million pounds of material from local landfills, cut fuel-oil use by 370,000 gallons, and avoided $41,000 in landfill charges since the project’s inception in 1992. Paper and cardboard recycling has saved more than 14,000 trees from the ax, and food-recycling efforts have provided 26,000 meals for local homeless and hungry folks.

Recycling Manager Laura Wolf, who developed and implemented the resort’s environmental programs, accepted the award in October at the FCSI’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

“We started very small,” Wolf explained during a recent phone interview, “knowing that, with us having such a large-scale operation, that if we tried to do everything at once our chances of failing might be greater. Over the last eight years, she continued, these efforts have expanded “to integrate new and innovative aspects of not only recycling, but waste reduction and reuse.”

The inn recycles the typical items, of course — aluminum, glass, cardboard, all office paper, steel and plastic — but its commitment to environmental stewardship goes much further.

The Grove Park has worked to install energy-efficient lighting throughout the resort. Compact fluorescent bulbs (which use less power and last longer than conventional incandescent bulbs) are used in all hallways. And in back-of-house, employees-only areas, said Wolf, “We purchase the most environmentally friendly fluorescent tube on the market. It’s the lowest-mercury-content bulb available.”

A Tennessee-based company picks up and recycles burnt-out bulbs. “They recycle all the different elements,” she explained, “from the glass to the mercury to all the different parts of the tube itself. Fluorescent bulbs come under the category of a hazardous waste. A lot of companies out there sometimes try to not deal with their hazardous materials in the proper way, but we’ve made a commitment to keep the fluorescent bulbs out of the landfill.”

To cut water use, the Grove Park has installed low-flow mechanisms in all its rooms, as well as revamping the laundry facility. “All of our laundry equipment has been upgraded and is top-of-the-line” in terms of both water efficiency and energy efficiency, continued Wolf. “That, of course, is not only good for the environment but it affects our bottom line, because of the bills we have to pay each month.”

The inn is also involved with assorted community groups, such as Manna Food Bank, the WNC Rescue Mission and ABCCM. Besides food, the Grove Park also donates old uniforms, the pallets used to deliver goods, unused or partly used complimentary bottles of lotion or shampoo left by guests, and more. “There was no reason for us to be throwing away food or old sheets when somebody else could have a second chance at those items,” Wolf observed.

Another facet of the recycling efforts is an in-house, source-reduction program. When sheets or other linens are ruined by tears or cigarette burns, staff converts them into such items as ironing-board covers for the rooms, or the chef’s scarves that all culinary staff must wear. “We’re completely eliminating a waste product by doing that, because we’re turning something old into something new.” That, said Wolf, both avoids new purchases and keeps material out of the landfill.

The inn recycles its telephone books each year, and all of the Christmas trees now on display will end up as mulch in the new year.

The Grove Park recycles its used ink and toner cartridges through a group called the Educational, Technology and Conservation Exchange Program. ETCEP’s goal, said Wolf, is “connecting community, education and environment.” For each used cartridge the inn recycles, Leicester Elementary receives points that can be used to buy audio-visual and computer equipment.

“The ETCEP folks make it so easy,” continued Wolf. “They send us boxes with prepaid stickers on the side, so all we have to do is fill up the box with cartridges [and] tape it up. … There’s no cost to us whatsoever, because it’s already paid for. And the last time we checked with the folks at ETCEP, they said that Leicester Elementary had almost enough points to buy a complete computer system — with the scanner, printer, everything — from the points they had collected from us. That made us feel really good.”

The pairing of Wolf and the Grove Park seems a fortuitous match. Back in 1993, Wolf was completing work on an environmental-studies degree at UNCA and was looking to do an internship. That was also when the inn was just beginning to think about implementing a full-scale recycling effort and was looking for some help. “I worked from January of that year to May doing my internship,” said Wolf. “I graduated on a Saturday, and the next Monday, I started as the full-time recycling person.”

The Grove Park Inn has previously won the American Hotel and Motel Association’s Stars of the Industry Award for Protecting the Environment, the N.C. Governor’s Award for Waste Reduction, and the Carolina Recycling Association’s Spirit of Recycling Sustained Commitment Award.

FCSI is an international organization for hospitality and food-service businesses. Wolf notes proudly, “There were seven resorts throughout the whole world that were up for the Green Award — and Grove Park was the one that won.”

Gofers for hire

Ask Rita Belanger of Asheville Concierge Service exactly what types of services she and her employees can provide, and you’ll hear a very long list. As the company’s motto proclaims: “We run your errands for you! And more!”

“We’re here to help the community,” she explains, adding, “Our primary purpose is to be there to help people.”

What can ACS do for you? Housecleaning, yard work, picking up prescriptions, dropping off and picking up laundry and dry cleaning, grocery shopping, gift and flower purchases, sitting with loved ones, waiting at your home for delivery or repair services, taking your pet to the vet, making trips to the library and post office, paying bills, housesitting, organizing, providing personal chefs and more.

The business employs 10 people, each of whom has various skills. And so far, says Belanger, “We haven’t had a problem where we were unable to help somebody.”

They work with a wide range of clientele, including many people who are simply very busy. “It saves [them] so much time,” she explains. “And the stress factor is just so much lessened … so that they can do things that really should be done, like being with their family and their friends.”

But that’s only one facet of ACS’s client base, Belanger notes. “We’re working with a few disabled people right now. We go in and we fix shelves for them, box things up, winterize their home … anything they need.

“We [also] sit with the elderly … so that caretakers can go and do what they need to do.”

Another angle for the business, says Belanger, is working with interior decorators on “new homes or homes that have been remodeled. … We go in and clean up … we buy the supplies that they need and do any fixing, lining shelves, any of the work that needs to be done.”

There are also special, seasonal services. “Now that the holiday season is here, we’re ready to go do [clients’] Christmas shopping,” she adds. “We wrap presents also. And a gift certificate for our services is a great idea for a Christmas present.”

The minimum charge for these services is $10 (for up to a half-hour), and $5 for each additional 15 minutes. But rates may vary depending on whether it’s a one-time need or a regular engagement.

A Massachusetts native, Belanger moved to Asheville from New Hampshire a little more than a year ago. “I came down here on faith,” she explains. “I had never even heard of Asheville. … I just wanted to come down in this direction, and I wasn’t sure where.” After visiting the area, she says, she told herself, ‘OK, I got that out of my system.’ But [the pull] grew so bad that I wound up quitting my job, selling a home. I didn’t know a soul in the area. … I just felt that this was the place I should be.”

This same kind of intuitive knowing provided the idea for the business. “It just popped into my head that they might be able to use [this service] in the community,” she reveals, adding, “And I really like to help people.”

Launched in July, ACS is insured and bonded. “[We] recently joined the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce,” says Belanger, who also works full time at the Grove Park Inn. “And we’re working on joining the Better Business Bureau, as a commitment to [our] service in the community.”

But Belanger says her favorite part of the job is “just to get to meet the different types of people … the variety in the community.”

For more information, call the Asheville Concierge Service at 778-1616.

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