Looking for some longform (or longer-form) reads to cozy up with over the weekend? Here’s a round-up of our leading feature stories from the last seven days. Happy reading!
Keeping the beat: Local businesses drive Asheville vibe
By Max Hunt
Walk any downtown Asheville street and you’re likely to encounter some quirky storefronts offering unusual products. Together, these “specialty shops” or boutiques, most of them locally owned businesses, are a key component of the city’s distinctive flavor, attracting thousands of tourists each year and helping fuel the economy.
But as Asheville’s national profile rises and more large-scale retail outlets look to stake a claim here, small businesses are taking steps to ensure that this city doesn’t become a victim of its own success.
Just how important are boutiques and small businesses in general to Asheville’s economy? In 2013, “retail trade” trailed only “health care” in the number of people employed in the Asheville metropolitan statistical area, according to a U.S. Census Bureau business report. “Accommodations and food service,” meanwhile, was the fifth most common category and employed the third-most residents.
Overall, 98 percent of businesses in the metro employed fewer than 100 people, and 95 percent had fewer than 50 workers. The abundance of locally owned specialty shops also contributes to the city’s unique character, says Heidi Reiber, director of research for the Economic Development Coalition, an arm of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Franzi Charen, co-owner of Lexington Avenue’s Hip Replacements boutique and director of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, agrees. “Our local businesses define the vitality of downtown,” she points out. “Out of the 1,448 businesses in the 28801 ZIP code, 88 percent have less than 20 employees, and 55 percent have one to four employees.” (continue reading)
Nurturing the workforce: City program helps local students target college, careers
By Dan Hesse
When Raekwon Griffin enrolls at Morehouse next fall, he’ll become the first member of his family to attend college. The Asheville High senior credits the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy with helping him get there.
CAYLA gives high school students summer internships, community service and leadership opportunities, and real-world experiences that bolster their résumés. To date, every one of its more than 140 participants has gone on to college, and “Close to 80 percent are still in college or have already completed their degree,” program coordinator Erika Germer reports. Nationally, she notes, less than 20 percent of first generation college students complete their course of study.
CAYLA, says Griffin, “has been extremely helpful in figuring out my plans after high school.” The organization, he continues, “helps students find their career interest, develop professionalism and give back to the community, all through their internship.”
City Council established the program in 2007, aiming to nurture local high schoolers professionally in hopes that they’ll eventually return to bolster Asheville’s workforce.
“During their internships, CAYLA students are placed into an adult-centric world, where they encounter, often for the first time, the hidden norms of the workplace: punctuality, open communication with supervisors, follow-through on real projects,” Germer explains. “By learning how to meet these expectations, students are well-prepared for future employment.” (continue reading)
Local libraries and booksellers encourage the adult coloring book trend
By Edwin Arnaudin
As January came to a close, the top-selling book on Amazon.com wasn’t the latest novel by James Patterson, Sandra Brown or John Grisham. That honor went to Swear Word Adult Coloring Book, a collection of 20 expletives presented in sleek cursive handwriting surrounded by a soothing scene of flowers, kittens, puppies and butterflies — all meant to be filled in with colored pencils.
At a given moment, nearly half of Amazon’s top 20 best-sellers are coloring books designed for adults, often referred to as “experienced colorists.” Popular offerings feature scenes and characters from “Game of Thrones,” Star Wars and “Dr. Who” and have made the books a publishing force. According to Nielsen BookScan, which collects data on roughly 85 percent of the print market, exponential increases in adult coloring book sales are a big reason why the number of paper books sold in the U.S. rose from 559 million in 2014 to 571 million in 2015.
“We love this particular trend — it’s creative, relaxing and easy,” says Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café. “Before the trend, we carried adult and children’s coloring books, but not as extensive a variety. The variety has improved tremendously since publishers recognized this was a hot phenomenon.” (continue reading)
Back of house: Clingman Café turns the page
By Thom O’Hearn
Debbie Bartok grew up in South Asheville, but it took a trip to London to make her realize that her birthplace was changing dramatically.
“About eight years ago, I was on a plane reading the in-flight magazine,” remembers Bartok, who was then living in Charlotte. “It said, ‘Asheville is the new Paris of the South,’ and I started laughing. I mean, growing up, we only went downtown to go to Tops for Shoes. That’s pretty much all there was.”
Yet when Bartok got back, she decided to give downtown another shot on her next trip to Asheville. “I don’t know what to say besides I couldn’t believe it. It gave me a hankering to come back home.”
In September, Bartok and daughter Marion Buhrmaster bought the Clingman Café in the River Arts District. But despite being recent arrivals, they’re anything but new to either cafés or Asheville.
Growing up in Charlotte, Buhrmaster made frequent trips here to visit her grandparents, who owned the iconic Hot Shot Café in Biltmore Village. After training as a pastry chef at Johnson & Wales University, she and her mother and sister opened the Sunflour Baking Co. in Charlotte.
“Sunflour was the first bakery/café I’d owned, but I’ve been a bread baker forever,” says Bartok. “We started it when Marion was just 22, right out of pastry school.” (continue reading)
Beer Scout: Asheville Brewers Alliance hosts a different breed of beer festival
By Jesse Farthing
These days, there’s scarcely a weekend when Asheville isn’t hosting a beer festival or tasting. That makes it hard to stand out from the crowd.
Accordingly, the Asheville Brewers Alliance aims to make the upcoming AVL Beer Expo a little bit different.
“We feel that folks want an alternative to the experience that most beer festivals provide,” says Kendra Penland, the group’s executive director. “The traditional festival is still a lot of fun, but we wanted to give craft beer lovers an opportunity to experience a closer connection with the brewers who make the beers they love, and a better understanding of the process.”
Bringing together more than 30 breweries and 30 different beers, the Feb. 27 expo will also feature multiple panel discussions followed by audience Q&A.
Besides sampling the beers, says Penland, festivalgoers will gain “a better understanding of the nuances of the brewing process and a more in-depth understanding of what it takes to start, run and grow a thriving craft brewery.”
The event will be divided into two sessions offering different sets of panels, so attendees will either have to decide which topics they’re most interested in or spring for tickets to both sessions. (continue reading)
Soundbarre Studio’s boot camp balances workouts with healthier diets
By Leslie Boyd
For many people, the coming of a new year means an attempt to live a healthier lifestyle, eat more sensibly and exercise more.
Statistically, most people won’t stick with it.
Anne Livengood, Avena Joyce and Katie Jennings-Campbell hope to improve the odds.
The women, owners of Soundbarre Studio in Asheville, have designed an eight-week boot camp that sets a goal of three to four classes a week for participants and engages local chefs to help them learn to eat well.
“We want people to commit to change, and if they can do three or four classes a week for eight weeks, they’re more likely to stick with it,” Livengood says.
About 40 women have signed on for the boot camp at the studio, which celebrated its first anniversary on Feb. 2nd.
Set to upbeat music, barre workouts combine ballet moves with yoga and Pilates. The combination helps strengthen the body’s core and increase flexibility. As a typical hour-long class progresses, Livengood paces across the studio, encouraging participants to hold positions for a few more seconds, reach a little higher and bend a little lower. She assures them that their flexibility will increase with each session.
The approach is low-impact, perfect for women like Cassie Dardenne, who is seven months pregnant. She only had to modify two moves that usually are performed while on the stomach. (continue reading)
Horse sense: Acclaimed author explores animal consciousness
By Leslie Boyd
Early humans knew that animals have emotions and cognitive abilities; today, most people just don’t see it, says award-winning ecologist Carl Safina. The Stony Brook University professor is the author of the New York Times best-seller Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and the host of the public television series “Saving the Ocean.”
“The question isn’t when did science begin to understand these things, but when did humans forget?” says Safina. “We started out with this reverence … and somewhere along the way, we lost that connection.”
Safina will bring that compelling perspective to Asheville in a Wednesday, Feb. 17 lecture presented by the WaterRock Institute, a local nonprofit that also offers pastoral counseling and executive coaching. After his talk, he’ll sign copies of his book.
Heidi Campbell-Robinson, the institute’s founder and director, says the spiritual aspect of Safina’s work is what inspired her to bring him to Asheville. “I wanted to create a forum for engaged learning via workshops and talks; I wanted to offer life enrichment.”
Safina’s interest in such matters started early. At age 7, he persuaded his father to let him raise homing pigeons on the roof of their Brooklyn apartment building; he soon began to notice similarities between the animal and human worlds. (continue reading)
Come together: Make ‘Carolina in my Mind’ N.C.’s official rock song
By James MacKenzie
We’re often told that our state is sharply divided, yet there are many things we North Carolinians seem to agree about. And high on the list are romantic reminders of home: barbecue, sweet tea and James Taylor.
Meanwhile, we do love our music, and we can prove it. But “The Old North State” has been N.C.’s official song since 1927. Isn’t it time we designated a more modern tune? Not throw away our existing state song, mind you, but add to the mix by giving it a rock ’n’ roll buddy.
James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind” has been called North Carolina’s “unofficial song,” with good reason. It casts a spell: You can’t hear its lyrics without being magically transported here, no matter where you are.
Dozens of famous musicians have covered the song, which continues to be lovingly sung at homecomings, football games and sundry other events in venues from the mountains to the coast. (Sometimes it’s even misappropriated by South Carolina, which makes it even more important that we finally bring it home, where it belongs.)
Our state seal bears the motto “Esse quam videri,” a Latin phrase meaning “to be, rather than to seem.” I interpret that as an imperative to be genuine — and nothing’s more authentic than this James Taylor tune. (continue reading)