The Asheville that inspired me to move here in the late ’90s was a distinctly different place. Downtown, in particular, had a small-town America feel reminiscent of my own rural upbringing. You could count the chain stores on one hand, and quirky, lost-in-time businesses seemingly held dark, mysterious secrets ripped from the pages of a Southern Gothic novel. Hogan’s Watch Repair, a hoarder’s paradise more than business enterprise, was rivaled in absurdity by Rogers Plumbing’s magnificent rainbow of for-sale toilets on display for the delight of window shoppers on Biltmore.
Asheville was not giving way to the modern world, but rather retained an anachronistic allure that attracted quirky misfits such as myself. North Lexington was a Bohemian focal point; Heiwa and Vincent’s Ear were staffed with the heartbeat of the town’s creatives, independent films were screened at The Big Idea, punks were banging heads at the Pink House. These were the people I met, drank and dreamed with. I still hold many as my closest friends, which intimates the biggest change I have felt in the last decade. The loss of the geographical and social isolation of our little mountain town, an exile that garnered a shared existence with unlimited possibilities: idiosyncratic, unabashed and irreverent, and at its heart, a community.
Lance Wille is an artist and musician living in Asheville. He also worked at Xpress as a graphic designer in the late ’90s and early 2000s.